James Forsyth

The key to victory in Iowa

The key to victory in Iowa
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Des Moines, Iowa

Quite remarkably on the eve of the Iowa caucuses both the Democratic and Republican races are far too close to call. The determining factor on both sides will be turnout. 

Obama is hoping to bring independents, disgruntled Republicans and first time caucus goers into the process and if he can succeed in doing this he’ll win: high turnout equates to an Obama victory. Many have questioned the wisdom of this strategy, arguing that expanding the universe of caucus goers is what Howard Dean tried and failed to do. But one very senior Republican told me today that he thinks Obama can pull it off, noting how professional his Iowa field organisation is. 

Hillary will likely win if turnout is middling, in the Des Moines Register poll she leads among Democrats. The good news for her is that the weather is relatively fine here; meaning that she should be able to turn out the older women that her campaign has been targeting. If turnout is low, John Edwards---who is the only leading candidate to have gone through this process before—could pull off a surprise win thanks to his superb and experienced organisation. Notably, Edwards made a final push today coming out with a new, frankly irresponsible, withdrawal plan for Iraq which should help him in this heavily anti-war state. 

On the Republican side, the question is whether Mitt Romney’s professional organisation will trump Mike Huckabee’s one which  is, by necessity, based on tapping into pre-existing networks such as church groups, home schoolers and the rest. The conventional wisdom is that Romney’s ground game could add three or four points to his numbers and is a large part of the reason why most of the political class seem to think that Romney has a better than even chance of securing a narrow win. But the Bush campaign in 2004 showed just how effective piggy-backing on social networks can be in getting out the vote. It does, though, seem slightly bizarre for Huckabee to be spending most of today flying out to LA to appear on the Jay Leno show. Although, the fact that Huckabee has been invited on the premier late-night show in American does illustrate that he’s not your typical Christian conservative. 

For Romney, victory in Iowa is becoming more important all the time. The latest polls show John McCain either level with him or just ahead of him in New Hampshire and Romney can not survive defeat in both of these early contests considering his poor national numbers—he is currently polling at just 12% . The problem for Romney is that McCain is on a roll; the Pew poll has him leading the national Republican field with 22% support. There’s a growing consensus emerging that if McCain wins New Hampshire, he’ll end up with the nomination. Interestingly when I put this to a member of the Romney campaign, he didn’t dissent from the analysis and it is hard to see how Romney can hope to beat back the McCain surge in New Hampshire unless he comes out of Iowa as the winner. 

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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