The Alan Katz Health Care Reform Blog

Health Care Reform From One Person's Perspective

Iowa Speaks!

Posted by Alan on January 4, 2008


The voters of Iowa have spoken. What they have to say may not mean much to you, but they certainly mattered to the candidates who spent months and millions trying to persuade voters not only to support them, but to brave the cold and stand around for hours in dozens of town hall like caucus meetings.

For Senator Barack Obama and former Governor Mike Huckabee it was a good day. Coming in first, by definition, is a good thing.

The key message for Democrats is that their constituency wants change. For Senator John Edwards it had to be frustrating to position yourself as the fighter for change and then to watch Senator Obama claim the change crown. But that’s what happened according to the CNN entrance survey of participants in the Democratic caucuses, 51 percent of those who stated the quality they were most looking for in a candidate was the ability to bring about change voted for Senator Obama. My guess is that Senator Edward’s extreme rhetoric worked against him and for Senator Obama.

Many voters are tired of the attack politics that is business as usual in Washington. It’s one of the reasons Congress is held in even lower esteem than President George W. Bush. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promised to change the tenor of the debate in Washington. They failed.

I believe most Americans want leaders who will build solutions, not tear down opponents. Seeking the mantle of Change Agent in Chief while promising to make Washington even more partisan and vicious, as Senator Edwards did, is counterproductive — at best. All he did was emphasize how much of a change the more open and inclusive style of Senator Obama would be. No wonder Senator Edwards earned only 20 percent of the vote from those whose top concern was bringing about change.

Senator Hillary Clinton had a rough night, too. Now she has to pivot from a campaign based on the inevitability of her nomination to demonstrating that she has the experience to implement the change that Senator Obama promises. Not an easy sell, but her campaign is very capable. It’s far too early to count her out.

By the way, expect both Senators Clinton and Edwards to claim second place. According to CNN, when the dust settles, Senator Edwards will have gotten a few more votes, but Senator Clinton will get 15 delegates to his 14 — compared to Senator Obama’s 16.

When asked by CNN for their top issue, health care was cited by 27 percent of those attending the Democratic caucuses, behind the war in Iraq and the economy (each mentioned by 35 percent of the voters).  Of those citing health care as their top issue, 34 percent said they were voting for Senator Obama, 30 percent for Senator Clinton and 27 percent for Senator Edwards. These numbers are so close it’s unlikely to have made much difference in the outcome. These results also reflect the narrow differences in the health care reform plans offered by the three front runners.

The CNN survey of Republican caucus goers indicate a different dynamic was at work there. First, the candidate leading in national polls, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani didn’t campaign in Iowa. This left the field to former Governors Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee with former Senator Fred Thompson and Senator John McCain fighting it out for a relatively distant third place finish (and it looks like Senator Thompson won the consolation prize by a hair).

The candidates views on God seemed to be the big issue for those showing up at the GOP caucuses. According to the CNN’s entrance poll,  77 percent of those attending the Republican caucus stated that the religious belief of the candidates mattered a great deal (36 percent) or somewhat (31 percent) in their decision. Only 15 percent of Republican caucus participants said the candidate’s religion didn’t matter at all. Of those who said it mattered a great deal, 56 percent said they’d be supporting Governor Huckabee. Only 11 percent said they’d be supporting Governor Romney — the same percentage that professed support for Senators McCain and Thompson.

When it came to specific issues, the top issue for 33 percent of the Republicans was illegal immigration, followed by the economy (26 percent), terrorism (21 percent) and the war in Iraq (17 percent). Health care reform didn’t make the list. A plurality of the voters citing each of these four issues as the most important to them said they’d be supporting Governor Huckabee.

What to make of the Iowa results?

  1. The expectation for Governor Huckabee and Senator Obama going into New Hampshire’s January 8th primary have gone up considerably. And it’s always a bad thing when a candidate fails to meet expectations.
  2. Coming in first in Iowa will give their war chests a nearly immediate infusion of cash (actually, credit card and Paypal donations). The Internet enables candidates to harvest contributions at speeds unfathomable in prior elections. More money will make it a bit easier for them to meet expectations. But as Governor Huckabee demonstrated to Govenor Romney, money doesn’t always translate into votes.
  3. Iowa will become yesterday’s news as soon as the New Hampshire polls close. Whatever happens there will serve as the context for the next news cycle.
  4. Perhaps most meaningful to regular readers of this blog, and as predicted here earlier, health care reform is unlikely to be a decisive factor in the primaries.

Roughly 340,000 residents of Iowa have now shaped the 2008 presidential election (that’s roughly the size of the city of Santa Ana). Now you can, too, by participating in the Alan Katz Health Care Reform Blog Unscientific Presidential Survey #1. I hope you’ll take a couple of minutes and participate. 

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