Alex Massie

If Hillary had skipped Iowa?

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The Los Angeles Times' Don Frederick claims Barack Obama has "disrespected" Kentucky by declining to campaign in the Bluegrass State. Does this mean he disrespected Guam too?

More interestingly - if no more usefully - Frederick asks what might have happened if Clinton had, as her then deputy campaign manager Mike Henry urged, simply skipped the Iowa caucuses entirely?

Well, yes, there's something to that. At the risk of stating the obvious, Iowa was by some clear distance the most important state in the race. That seems clear now. But that importance is qualified: Iowa would not have been as significant if John Edwards had won. True, Edwards would presumably have done better than he did in New Hampshire and, equally plausibly, South Carolina might have been different too. But an Edwards victory in Iowa would have been ascribed to voter familiarity with him (having run in 2004 and spent more time in Iowa than either Obama or Clinton). It would not have been seen - correctly - as a game-changing moment.

Clinton could have survived an Edwards victory in Iowa since I suspect she would, even had that happened, have been favoured to defeat Edwards if the race had become a choice between the two of them. But Obama's victory was quite another matter. I think one may almost say that Obama won South Carolina in Iowa. Triumphing amongst white folks in the mid-west proved he could a) win and b) energised African-Americans who to that point had been well-disposed to Hillary. Iowa made Obama and the idea of Obama's candidacy viable. In the process - and to an extent that would have been denied an Edwards victory - it c) punctured Hillary's myth of inevitability.

That inevitability might have survived if Clinton had skipped Iowa and still won in New Hampshire. The natural, presumed order would have been maintained. She would have won their first head-to-head encounter and benefitted more from a NH victory than was possible after her Iowa humiliation. In other words, she would have gone to South Carolina effectively undefeated, while Obama would have played one game against Clinton and lost it. The optics would have been friendlier to Hillary. As it was, her NH win was still somewhat overshadowed by Obama's Iowa win.

Now, for sure, many other things might have happened and there's no single explanation for her defeat, but the rot set in early and Iowa dealt a blow to her campaign that she never really recovered from. She might have lost anyway, but I'm not so sure she would have. Her defeat in Iowa, however, proved that there was in fact an alternative to Hillary.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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