Re: Caucus Predictions

At the risk of being made a fool of, I’ll predict that Mike Huckabee wins by a comfortable but not overwhelming margin.

On the Democratic side, I keep going back and forth between John Edwards and Barack Obama, but my gut tells me Obama, so I’ll go with that. Either way, I think Hillary Clinton comes in third.

If Obama wins Iowa, having proven that he can convert his movement into actual votes, having crippled Edwards, he’ll be off to the races and win the nomination. If Clinton or Edwards wins, Clinton will be the nominee.

Where and When To Expect Caucus Results

Here is some information I’ve been able to obtain on when we can expect to have caucus results, and where you can look for them.

NOTE: All times are central.

REPUBLICANS:

The party tells me that the results will start to trickle in as early as 7:30 pm and that they should be close to all in (if not entirely in) by 9 pm. You can check for up to the minute updates here.

DEMOCRATS:

Party communications director Carrie Giddins tells me that they should have the results by 10 pm. Live updates here.

A Funny Thing Happened On My Way To See Hillary

DES MOINES — On the eve of the Iowa Caucuses I had the crazy idea to swing by five rallies on a single night. I was more interested in getting a sense of the crowds and the enthusiasm, because I know what the candidates are going to say. (Ron Paul is for the Freedom Agenda, Hillary Clinton wants to return to the 1990s, Mitt Romney wants to turnaround Washington, Barack Obama wants to change politics, and John Edwards wants to publicly behead all corporate executives.)

I saw Ron Paul speak to a veterans group to a crowd of 650 or so, then I went off to a Mitt Romney event, and it didn’t seem like his crowd was that much larger than Paul’s, though it’s always hard for me to do crowd estimates when everybody is standing. As I described in my article on the main site, John Edwards drew a huge crowd for his event with John Mellencamp, which was probably the largest event of the evening.

I was running late to the Clinton rally, and had to park several blocks away and I jogged over in the cold. I was looking for the media entrance when I saw some people entering through this loading dock on the side, so I followed them through a hallway. Suddenly I found myself in this holding room, standing about ten feet away from Hillary Clinton, Tom Vilsack, and Hillary’s mom Dorothy Rodham. I was kind of startled, and was wondering how a really good reporter would take advantage of the situation.

So I was just standing around, until a security guy finally notices I’m kind of out of place.

“Wait, who are you?” he asks me, stunned.

“Uh, I’m looking for the press entrance,” I said.

“Well this is not it,” he told me. “Go around the front.”

I found it odd that even though Hillary has Secret Service protection, a member of the vast right wing conspiracy was able to get so close to her.

She pulled out all the stops at the final rally–Bill, Chelsea, and her mom. I still don’t think she’ll win here.

I left the Clinton party like it’s 1992 event while Hillary was speaking, and headed over to an Obama event at a high school on another side of town. Unfortunately, by the time I found parking, the event had ended.

Hungry Democrats

DES MOINES — While most of the media coverage coming out of tonight’s Iowa caucuses will focus on the winning candidates in each party, the real story will be the extent to which Democratic turnout swamps Republican participation.

In 2006, Democrats swept into power because their energized base overwhelmed dispirited Republicans, and independents were eager for change. Already lagging behind Democrats on the fundraising front, tonight the GOP will likely get another stark reminder that these fundamentals have not changed.

Every bit of anecdotal evidence points to a massive enthusiasm gap between the two parties, with the possibility that the participation of Democrats in the caucuses will exceed that of Republicans by nearly a two-to-one margin. This even though the Democratic caucus process is much more complicated, requiring two hours of their voters’ time.

Democratic candidates have routinely drawn larger and more boisterous crowds than their Republican counterparts in events throughout the state. This was apparent in the evenings leading up to the caucuses, when candidates in both parties held their final large rallies in the Des Moines area.

ON TUESDAY NIGHT, Republican frontrunner Mike Huckabee strummed his bass guitar and shared the stage with action hero Chuck Norris at an event at the Val Air Ballroom in West Des Moines (site of the notorious Howard Dean scream).

By the time I got there, the parking lot was full, and I had to park at an overflow lot across the street. The large ballroom inside was crowded, and Huckabee announced that more than 2,000 people were in attendance (though this was likely an exaggeration).

The following night, John Edwards held his final rally at the same venue featuring singer John Mellencamp. When I arrived, not only was the overflow lot full, but so were the lots of the local bowling alley, a pawn shop, and much of the True Value hardware store.

I ended up having to park outside a Long John Silver’s a five minute walk away.

Once I got inside, I noticed a crowd that was far larger than the one Huckabee drew the night before. At the Huckabee event, one could walk around the ballroom without much problem, but at the Edwards event, attendees were packed together shoulder to shoulder.

In fact, one could have taken all of the attendees from Mitt Romney’s Caucus Eve rally at the Hy-Vee Conference Center and combined them with the Huckabee crowd, and it would have been a smaller turnout than for the Edwards event.

IT’S NOT JUST the top-tier candidates. Last Friday, Fred Thompson visited Ottumwa, where the local paper endorsed him, and drew a crowd of about 40. On Wednesday, Joe Biden drew double that at an event at an elementary school library in the same town.

During the question and answer session following Biden’s formal remarks, one attendee neatly encapsulated the sentiment of many in his party: “I want the Democrats to win so bad I can taste it.”

David Axlerod, Barack Obama’s chief strategist, told me Wednesday night that turnout on the Democratic side could be around 150,000, which would represent a 20 percent increase from the record attendance of 2004.

“We think that it is self evident that with all this activity, and all this ferment, that it’s going to be larger than what we’ve seen before,” Axlerod said.

Republicans, on the other hand, may see turnout south of the 86,000 that they generated during their last contested caucus in 2000. That year, when then-Governor George W. Bush won a convincing victory, participation was higher among Republicans.

Especially troubling for Republicans is that only one-third of self-described independents in the latest Des Moines Register poll said they planned to vote in a Republican caucus, compared to two-thirds who expected to participate on the Democratic side. While somebody has to be a registered Democrat to vote in that party’s caucus, voters can change their registration on caucus night.

No matter what the outcome of the nomination battle, Democrats are so hungry to take back the White House that they’ll rally around whichever candidate triumphs.

For Republicans, it isn’t that simple. At this point in time, it’s difficult to see how any Republican candidate can emerge from the messy nominating process to unify the party.

Biden: I Forgot More About Terror Than Rudy Knows

OTTUMWA, Iowa — Joe Biden on Wednesday argued that he was the Democrat best prepared to face off against leading Republicans, and in an interview following the event, he questioned the depth of experience of his Democratic rivals.

“Who do want in the ring with my friend John McCain debating national security?” he asked a crowd of about 80, crammed into the library of an elementary school here. “Who do you think has enough stature to stand toe to toe with him? Who do you want standing in the ring when Rudy Giuliani starts talking about his experience with terror? The other candidates or the guy who the day before 9/11 occurred made a speech at the National Press Club predicting a terrorist attack…when it came would come in the belly of a plane? I’ve forgotten more about dealing with fighting terror than Rudy Giuliani will know.”

Biden also said he would relish the opportunity to debate “family values” with Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney.

Following the event, I asked Biden why the Democrats who are leading in polls are the ones with the least experience in the field of candidates. He argued that his main problem is that people don’t know him as well, because he hasn’t been getting enough media coverage.

“If I ever get to the point where it’s me and Hillary, me and Barack, me and Edwards, I win that race, because you can’t hide it then” he said, in a reference his broader experience relative to his rivals. “What happens then is you all cover me every day.”

I followed up by asking him whether he thought that Hillary Clinton’s background as First Lady was relevant to her presidential aspirations.

“I don’t discount that experience any more than I discount the experience of someone who’s never played, but who walked into Madison Square Garden in the middle of the game and felt the feel, and knew what it’s like, so when they get into there to play it’s not all of a sudden a shock,” Biden said

“(Clinton) says, ‘you know, I’ve been doing this for 35 years, I was protecting children with the Children’s Defense Fund'” he noted. “That’s when I wrote the Child Predator bill. Her experience was real, but I was actually a United States Senator, actually writing the first child protection legislation.”

He continued, “So the idea that her experience is not real, it is. And it’s relevant, but it is not sufficient. It is not sufficient to claim that she’s ready from day one to sit down behind that desk and make these hard decisions.”

Biden then offered a broader critique of the lack of legislative accomplishments of the three frontrunners in Iowa.

“Hillary’s been there eight years,” Biden said. “I don’t know a single major piece of legislation Hillary has authored, passed, and got done. John Edwards was there for six years, he’s passed three things. He’s passed, I think, four post offices…Barack Obama hasn’t passed anything that I’m aware of. So, you know, it’s not that they’re not making significant contributions, but it’s relative. Is her experience nearly as consequential for being president as the experience I have? Or Chris Dodd has? Or others have? The answer is, I think not.”

He also critiqued some of the positions taken by his Democratic rivals on Iraq.

“John Edwards…said he’d remove every trainer from Iraq immediately–I don’t quite get that,” Biden said. “It’s like when Hillary said you cut off money for funding the Iraqi military forces. I thought the deal was we were supposed to be building these guys up so they could replace us, so chaos is not left behind…The first people you are going to withdraw are the people training an Iraqi military that’s supposed to be helping us?”

Though not by name, he took issue with Edwards’s brand of populism for being too divisive. “The idea that all business is bad, the idea that every corporation is corrupt…,” Biden said, “I’m not saying the guy who is saying it doesn’t believe it, but I don’t believe it.”

Biden predicted a fourth place showing would give him a “ticket out of Iowa.”

Re: A Thompson Surge?

I know that Fred Thompson still has a lot of fans in the conservative media and among bloggers–and a base of loyal national supporters who are willing to grasp onto anything to report a coming Fred surge, but I haven’t detected any signs of it here in Iowa. Of all the events I’ve been to in both parties, Fred drew the smallest crowd–even Joe Biden and Bill Richardson outdrew him. On the same day that Mike Huckabee attracted about 500 people to a large theater in Ottumwa last Friday, Thompson crammed about 40 people into a tiny conference room at a hotel.

The latest cause of the Fred euphoria is this Zogby poll showing him at 12 percent, in a tie for third place with John McCain. Has the bar really gotten so low for Thompson that after camping out in the state for weeks, he’s tied with somebody who has hardly put any resources into the state, and it’s cited as evidence of a “surge”?� We’re supposed to believe that a narrow third place finish–with him getting less than half the support of the second place candidate–is going to catapult him to a win in South Carolina and on to the nomination? I’ll be the first to admit it if I’m wrong, but I really do think that’s wishful thinking on the part of the Fredheads. Huckabee remains very strong here on Caucus eve.

Does Romney Need To Win Iowa?

DES MOINES — Though Romney says that he’d be happy with a silver in the Hawkeye State, I think he needs to win here. One of the things that has helped Romney in the polls is the calculation that he’s electable because he’s run a very strong, well-managed campaign. He set a strategy at the beginning of the year to win in Iowa and New Hampshire, worked like the dickens (as he would put it) to see it through, spent a ton of time and money in Iowa, and built a world class organization here. If he loses to Mike Huckabee, who has spent a fraction of the money and has a comparatively small formal organization, it will be a major blow to the Romney concept of running a presidential campaign like a business venture. It will mean that at the end of the day, regular voters weren’t buying his product. To voters I’ve spoken to here who have decided to support Huckabee or Fred Thompson, what I hear over and over again is that Romney isn’t genuine–they just don’t trust that he’ll stick with his current conservative positions. Even though he still would maintain a strong organization in New Hampshire should he lose Iowa and his chances shouldn’t be discounted, I think that a loss here would badly damage Romney’s brand as a manager who gets results and ultimately doom him in New Hampshire as well, where John McCain has the momentum. A win here however, would demonstrate that Romney has some fight in him, that he was able to stave off a challenge from a surging Huckabee, and that his business model was successful. It would reinforce the idea of him as a competent manager, and give him momentum to counter McCain’s rise. So, for Romney, I think it does ultimately come down to Iowa.

The Coming Huckabee Money Bomb?

DES MOINES — Chuck Norris and Mike Huckabee shared the stage here Tuesday night at a “Huck and Chuck” event that the campaign claimed drew more than 2,000 people. Whether or not that was accurate, it was clearly a large turnout, and more evidence that taxes, immigration, clemency, foreign policy gaffes, and press conference-gate have not derailed the man from Hope.

One of the few newsy items of the evening was that Norris announced he would hold a “virtual BBQ” from his ranch in Texas on Jan. 20 that will be streamed over the Internet with the hopes of raising $10 million dollars for Huckabee ahead of the national primary. Is there that much pent up demand to get a “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” type tour of the Norris ranch? I suppose we shall have to wait and see.

During the rest of the evening, Huckabee gave his standard stump speech, Norris made his pitch for Huck, then Huck played bass guitar with a local band, and was joined by Joe Scarborough.

I must say I found it odd to have the star of The Delta Force lecture me on tax policy, but I think the highlight of Norris’s speech came when he complained about the negative campaign against Huckabee. “Another thing that irritates me is them calling Mike Huckabee a Baptist minister,” Norris lamented. (Gee, wasn’t it Huckabee who took out an ad calling himself a “Christian leader” and defended the use of the term by saying he was simply educating voters about his background?) Norris’s point was evidently that the media should refer to him as “governor”–and then he followed up with another doozy: “I mean, they don’t call Mitt Romney ‘businessman Romney.'” Uh, actually Chuck, they kinda do.

The Wife and the Wrestler

AMES, Iowa — Hillary Clinton and John Edwards held dueling events here on New Year’s Day, and though they drew comparable crowds of a few hundred people, Edwards seemed to be gaining steam in the final days before the caucuses and Clinton showed the strains of a long, already drawn-out campaign.

Speaking at the Gateway Hotel, Clinton’s vocal chords sounded worn out, her voice was faint and she spoke in a hushed tone during several parts of the speech. Though she is never a graceful orator, when her campaign was at full strength in the fall, she at least had a tightly focused message for her stump speech. On Tuesday, she meandered for more than 45 minutes in a speech that lacked a climax, and she gave long-winded answers when she opened the floor to questions.

The first question she took was on immigration, and she was still answering it six minutes later when I had to leave to see Edwards. By contrast, Edwards seemed to be hitting his stride at a speech at Iowa State University and was much more efficient — speaking for 25 minutes, and packing about 5 or 6 questions in the next 15 minutes, before wrapping things up so he could head off to another event.

Clinton’s closing argument can be summed up in her line that, “Some people think you can get change by demanding it, others think you can get change by hoping for it — I think you get change by working hard for it every single day.”

Despite her limited track record of tangible accomplishments, Clinton wants voters to believe that she has been fighting successfully for change for 35 years. She says that during the 1990s “we” turned a deficit into a surplus and noted that she and her husband “tackled” health care — something that even FDR, Harry Truman, and LBJ were afraid to touch.

“We took it on, and we weren’t successful, but I’m proud we tried,” she recounted. Here she was, highlighting a colossal failure in an attempt to make an argument that she has been successful at bringing about change.

At times, Clinton speaks not merely as if she were co-president during the 1990s, but as if she were actually running the country. “I was deeply involved in the Northern Ireland peace process,” she boasted. “I actually went to Northern Ireland more than Bill did.”

EDWARDS’S PUGILISTIC populism (which John Tabin captured brilliantly last week) is an absurd spectacle to witness in person. I’ve never heard so much macho talk coming from an adult since I used to watch the WWF as a kid.

His closing argument is that, “I will fight for you with every fiber of my being,” and he spent the speech explaining why we needed a fighter, why he is itching for a fight, and why he can kick the butts of corporations because his father taught him to stand up to street toughs when he was a young boy. (I kid you not.)

During his speech, he recounted the story of a 17-year-old girl who died because her insurance company resisted approving payment for a liver transplant. “And people say to me, that what I’m supposed to do as your president, is to sit at a table, and negotiate with those people?” he asked indignantly.

“Let me say this very clearly: Never! It will NEVER happen when I am President of the United States!”

His heroic intransigence is especially silly coming from a man who wants to reengage with Iran and North Korea. So, if you’re a communist country that runs gulags and starves millions of its own people, a leading state sponsor of terrorism, a nation that threatens to wipe Israel off the map, vows “Death to America,” and supplies Iraqi insurgents weapons used to kill American soldiers, Edwards wants to chat. But meeting with an insurance executive is simply beyond the pale.

Unlike Barack Obama, whose message of change and inclusiveness would translate well in a general election, both Clinton and Edwards will face obstacles should they get the nomination.

Clinton’s problem is that too much of her support is tied to her being the wife of Bill, which may be enough for her to win among Democrats who are nostalgic about the 1990s, but will not do much for her among a broader electorate that is more ambivalent. Edwards’s anti-corporate message is simply too tailored to winning the votes of angry liberals in Iowa to play on the national stage.

Philip Klein is a reporter for The American Spectator.

New Year, New Poll (And Thoughts From The Ground)

DES MOINES–The Des Moines Register, the most reliable poll we have for Iowa, is out with its final survey before the caucuses. On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee maintained a 6 point lead over Romney 32 to 26 despite the barrage of negative stories about him; John McCain surged into third place at 13 percent which would be a huge showing considering he didn’t campaign much here and opposes ethanol subsidies; Fred Thompson and Ron Paul were tied at 9 percent which means that Thompson has seen no bounce from his debate performance and weeks of campaigning in Iowa (will he drop out if this is how he finishes?), and given the margin of error, it means that Paul has the potential to move into third place. Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani continues his slide, and is down to an abysmal 5 percent in polls. There is now an outside chance that he could lose to Paul in both Iowa and New Hampshire–which would be poetic justice for Paulites and an embarassment for Giuliani who will be kept on the defensive regarding his late state strategy.

Not surprisingly, the poll found that Huckabee had a huge advantage over Romney among “fundamentalist Christians,” social conservatives, and those who think he shares their “core principles.” Romney does better on the experience and electability front, but by a smaller margin. Nearly half of caucus-goers still say they could change their mind, so take these results with a grain of salt.

And regarding Jennifer’s point that Huckabee’s press conference stunt was “drawing very little criticism in Iowa,” that’s not quite right. The Des Moines Register did cover the story, and its chief political reporter, David Yepsen, urged caution regarding the poll because “it can’t reflect the goofy press conference Huckabee held on Monday in which he promised not to run attack ads against Mitt Romney while producing them and showing them to reporters anyway. Right.” Huckabee is a laughingstock for pulling that stunt among the local media as well. With that said, I do think Jennifer is generally right that it may not have much impact on actual voters. At every stop I’ve been to, Huckabee emphasizes that he’s been outspent 20-1 and the media is against him. He’ll just cleverly blame this whole controversy on the media and and use it to add further fuel to his populist, anti-establishment, let’s show the media that they don’t control who gets elected, message.

If I had to bet on this race today I’d put my money on Huckabee based on going to events here, looking at the crowd sizes, and talking with the voters. Huckabee is not only drawing larger crowds from what I’ve been able to see, but his voters seem a lot more enthusiastic about him than Romney supporters are about their man. They tell me how they like Huckabee because he shares their “Christian values,” that he’s a good man, he’s down to earth, that they feel that they can trust him, unlike Romney. Once word of mouth gets out among regular churchgoers, it spreads like wildfire, and I think your seeing that reflected in Huckabee’s surge and the resilience of his support. I think what we may see is a repeat of Bush-Kerry 2004, in which the GOP turnout machine that worked through local social networks trumped the paid, outsourced Kerry get out the vote efforts. Romney’s anti-Huckabee ads have had mixed results from what I’ve been able to pick up. I’ve spoken to people who have said to me that they switched to Huckabee once Romney went negative, but I’ve also spoken to people who have said they can’t support Huckabee because he is too soft on immigration and raised taxes. So, Romney could certainly pull this thing off.

I’m heading out to Clinton and Edwards events now, so will have more thoughts from the Democratic side when I return.