Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


My Closing Argument

By Shawn Healy

It's a rather balmy 11 degrees (-4 with the wind chill) here in sunny Cedar Rapids as the final hours tick away before the Iowa Caucuses. The morning news shows focused extensively on the first-in-the-nation presidential selection process, and the national and local newspapers are laden with turnout projections and what lies next when the sun finally sets on Iowa. (For an excellent description of how the caucus system works, see this graphic in the Chicago Tribune, or check out this morning's print edition of USA Today.)
After a busy day yesterday in Cedar Rapids, the campaigns, with the exception of Sen. Chris Dodd and Sen. John Edwards, are delivering their closing arguments close to their state headquarters in Des Moines. Dodd is speaking as I write, but I will attempt to attend Edwards' mid-afternoon rally.

I made my top-five projections last Friday and will stick with them with six days of additional evidence considered, including two days at ground zero of the campaign. I act in defiance of the reputable Des Moines Register poll that called the 2004 race for Sen. John Kerry. Their recent findings have Obama with a 7-point lead over Clinton and Edwards, safe beyond the margin of error. Obama is relying extensively on political independents, and in some cases, even Republicans, while his two top-tier opponents draw extensively from party faithful. Moreover, Obama's supporters are decidedly younger than those of his rivals, notoriously fickle when it comes to turnout, particularly the caucuses which require at least 1.5 hours of one's evening.

A victory for any of the candidates will come with the closest of margins, and despite the close shave, a resounding win it will be. Clinton retains her lead across a standard estimate of polling data, though Obama leads in the latest five-poll average. A third-place finish would be destructive to the chances of any of the Big Three, particularly Edwards who is not well-positioned in New Hampshire. Unfortunately for the former North Carolina Senator, it appears as if "show" is in the stars this evening. My top-five are as follows:

  1. Sen. Hillary Clinton

  2. Se. Barack Obama

  3. Sen. John Edwards

  4. Sen. Joe Biden

  5. Gov. Bill Richardson

Finishing outside the top five will be Sen. Chris Dodd, who will likely withdraw either tomorrow or after the New Hampshire primary next Tuesday; Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who is clearly in it through New Hampshire as he campaigned there yesterday and instructed his supporters to move to Obama should he fail to attain viability in individual precincts today; and former Sen. Mike Gravel, who has little rationale for his candidacy to begin with other than angry swipes at his opponents.

The GOP race remains competitive at the top between Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney. The Register poll has Huck ahead of Romney, but within the margin of error. There is evidence that Romney's repeated attacks on the former Arkansas Governor have deflated his stratopheric surge, but this is a state where Christian conservative candidates like Pat Robertson (1988) and Pat Buchanan (1996) have fared well before. Huckabee left us all scratching our heads on Monday with his press conference to pull a negative ad he planned to launch against Romney, only to play it for the assembled members of the press. Moreover, his decision to jet to California yesterday for a taped appearance of the Tonight Show raised eye brows. Hillary Clinton accomplished much the same with a remote cameo on David Letterman's show while remaining on the ground in Iowa.

Mitt Romney does have the professionalized, superior organization on the ground, but he has failed to inspire the enthusiasm of a Republican base looking for change of their own. Polling data is all over the map between the top two, so this one is truly a toss-up. However, for a state where 40% of its party base is evangelical Christian, Huck is their candidate. Romney will come in a strong second and be forced to fight off a surging McCain in New Hampshire to avoid a two-state sweep and a stunning reversal of fortunes. The battle between two former allies, Sen. John McCain and former Sen. Fred Thompson, for third is an interesting side show, as McCain makes one last jaunt across a state he had written off long ago, seeking a boost toward victory next Tuesday in the Granite State. The momentum is on McCain's side, and he will narrowly eclipse Thompson this evening. The battle for fifth is also an interesting one, as Ron Paul has a solid chance of knocking off Rudy Giuliani, another death knell for a candidate pursuing a late-state strategy. My top five, then, are as follows:

  1. Gov. Mike Huckabee

  2. Gov. Mitt Romney

  3. Sen. John McCain

  4. Sen. Fred Thompson

  5. Rep. Ron Paul

At the back of the pack will be the aforementioned Giuliani who is campaigning as we speak in New Hampshire and will certainly hang on through Florida at the end of the month; Rep. Duncan Hunter, who may withdraw after a lackluster response to his anti-immigration, pro-defense message; and of course Alan Keyes, the perennial candidate who will hang on for who knows what reason.

I'l be back with one more post later this afternoon before I head to the local Democratic precinct. I'll return for a quick analysis of the results and also share a few of my own observations from the event. I'll conclude my reporting tomorrow morning with a final take on the state of the race after the dust, or should I say, snow settles this evening.


Blogger Larry said...

Thanks for your predictions, Shawn! We'll see if you have the savvy...:-)

6:23 PM  

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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

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McCormick Foundation

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Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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