Beginning next Wednesday I'll drive to Cedar Rapids, IA, to take in the festivities leading up to caucus night on Thursday. My hope is to attend a Democratic caucus, for the party's viability requirement of 15% for any candidate makes for interesting political drama. I'll also cover the Republican outcome extensively, but the GOP conducts simple straw polls at the beginning of their precinct meeting on caucus night, saving the theatrics for their left-of-center counterparts.
I'll return to Chicago next Friday and head to the Freedom Museum on Saturday for Voter Fest, where we make a final push for voter registration in Illinois one month before our own primary. The event will also feature a curator talk from our Director of Exhibits and Programs, Nathan Richie, about Vote4Me!, along with a brief presentation and Q&A session from your's truly on the state of the race. Please check our web site in the coming days for more detailed information.
On Monday Jan. 7 it's off to the Granite State. I'll spend three days in Manchester, NH, observing candidates' get-out-the-vote operations and talking to voters before and after the pivotal New Hampshire Primary.
When I return on Jan. 9 the race will by no means be decided, but to borrow an axiom from sports, there will be points on the board. I've sized up the race on many occasions throughout 2007, but given the wide open race on two sides of the aisle, an occasional update is more than necessary. USA Today provided a wonderful primer on the critical dates and developments coinciding with the arrival of the New Year, so I need not recount these here. What was a marathon is now a sprint, and in this spirit I'll provide but a few observations from afar before I head by planes, trains, and automobiles to the Breadbasket and New England.
- Hillary Clinton is no longer the inevitable Democratic nominee. If I was a betting man, I'd still have my money on the former First Lady, but Barack Obama is closing strong, and John Edwards remains organizationally solid in Iowa. Short of an Edwards victory in the caucuses, this once more becomes a two-horse race. An Obama victory undermines the Clinton claim that she is the more electable Democrat. If New Hampshire independents vote in the Democratic primary for Obama, Hillary is in trouble, for every Democratic candidate in the past who swept the two early states went on to the nomination.
- Mike Huckabee is the Republican frontrunner according to national polling data. He is a strong bet to win Iowa, and although his message may not resonate in New Hampshire, he is a threat to win the South Carolina primary and may be the man to beat at this point in a multi nodal Republican field.
- Mitt Romney remains well-positioned to pull off an Iowa comeback and follow it up with a win in New Hampshire. Should the former Massachusetts Governor slip in Iowa, he'll need to fend off the surging John McCain, who has made New Hampshire a second home since his campaign nearly imploded last summer.
- Giuliani's late-state strategy is about to be tested. He campaigned sparsely in Iowa and New Hampshire, targeting larger, delegate-rich states lined up later, many of them on Tsunami Tuesday (Feb. 5). A split decision in the early states opens the door for Rudy, but Huckabee, Romney, or even McCain may be on their way to victory by the time the race arrives in the Sunshine State on Jan. 29.
- Don't count out an Iowa surprise in the Democratic field. Joe Biden boasts a loyal base of supporters dating back to his 1988 presidential run and has a slate of endorsements from party faithful across the state. Chris Dodd even moved his family to Des Moines. Kerry and Edwards finished 1 and 2 in Iowa in 2004, both of them closing strong. Might these two senior senators have similar tricks up their sleeves?
- The mighty dollar still matters, perhaps this year more than most. Romney and Rudy, and Hillary and Barack are well-positioned for the multi-state race that follows the early contests. Underfunded candidates with a shot like Edwards, Huckabee, and McCain must win early to earn free media and fresh campaign cash to move forward. The aforementioned Funded Four are in it to win it through at least Feb. 5.
- What impact will newspaper endorsements have in the early contests? McCain has run the table (Des Moines Register, Manchester Union Leader, Boston Herald, Boston Globe) on the Republican side, and the Concord (NH) Monitor went so far as to instruct Republicans and independents to vote for anyone but Romney. Hillary Clinton won the Des Moines Register's nod, but Barack Obama scored the Boston Globe's. In most places these testimonials have taken on the relevance of the phonograph, but not in small-town America where retail politicking remains a contact sport.