James Forsyth

What the candidates want from Iowa

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It is now only 4 days until Iowa Caucuses get the 2008 presidential contest under way. The most precious commodity that Iowa can bestow upon a candidate is momentum; the result in Iowa can set the tone for the rest of the campaign.  So, here is Coffee House’s guide to what the leading candidates want out of Iowa.

The Democrats

Current polls show John Edwards, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in an effective three way tie.

John Edwards: The Southern populist needs to win Iowa. If he doesn’t, he might as well drop out of the race. 

Hillary Clinton:
Winning would obviously be nice and there are signs that things are swinging back her way in the final few days. But most important to Hillary is that Obama doesn’t win. If he does, momentum will likely carry him to victory in New Hampshire and South Carolina—and if Hillary is 0 for 3 after the first three contest, then she in real trouble. 

Barack Obama: Victory in Iowa would make Obama the master of his own destiny in this race. Anything less than first place and the New Hampshire primary on January 8th, will be an absolute must-win for him.

The Republicans:

Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney are running way ahead of the rest of the pack. In recent days, Romney’s attack ads have taken their toll on Huckabee’s support and have seen Romney edge ahead of Huckabee in most polling.

Mike Huckabee: The Christian populist needs to win Iowa if he is to have any serious chance of winning the nomination. If Huckabee can’t win in a caucus dominated by Christian conservatives then he can’t hope to win the whole thing. However, even a second place finish will establish Huckabee as a major figure in the GOP and the most influential Christian conservative in the country.

Mitt Romney:
Defeat here would be a major embarrassment after Romney has spent far more money and time here any other candidate. The negative press that will follow any defeat would weaken him in New Hampshire where he is locked in a tight-race with John McCain. If Romney, who has built his campaign around an early state strategy, doesn’t win either Iowa or New Hampshire then it is almost certainly all over for him.

John McCain: McCain has an interest in the outcome of both the Republican and Democratic races. In the Republican contest, he’d love  Huckabee to beat Romney and to come in third himself, gaining more good press and giving him vital momentum heading into New Hampshire. On the Democratic side, a strong Hillary victory would be ideal for him as it would persuade independents in New Hampshire that the Democratic contest is effectively over and push more of them to vote in the Republican primary. For McCain, though, crunch time comes on the eighth: win New Hampshire and he’ll probably be the nominee, if he doesn’t it is probably all over for the Arizona Senator.

Rudy Giuliani:
Giuliani has barely campaigned in Iowa instead choosing to put his chips on winning the Florida primary at the end of January and then cleaning up when the big states vote on February fifth. but he still has a significant stake in the result. First, he needs to avoid coming in behind the fringe candidate Ron Paul—if he did, it would only serve to emphasise how out of sync Giuliani is with the Republican heartland. Second, he’d also like the well financed Romney campaign not to win here. The nightmare for Giuliani is that one Republican sweeps the first three contests and overwhelms him in Florida thanks to the momentum picked up in the early states and a flood of TV advertising.  

Written byJames Forsyth

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

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