The View From Iowa: One Last Look
With the Iowa Caucuses just a few weeks away, and with the final debates of both parties in the bag, it's once again time to look at the situation on the ground here in Iowa.
As I've noted previously here at Pajamas Media, I have friends and family around the state, and I talk to them frequently about their personal impressions of the candidates and what they are picking up among their circle of acquaintances. I did the same this time, but added a new source of information: the readers at my blog.
I asked my Iowa readers to email me with info on where they lived and how the race was shaping up in their area, what they, their family, their co-workers, etc., thought, and what kind of support each candidate was getting.
The verdict: many of us who watched the Republican debate on Wednesday were unimpressed. The format was awful, not allowing for answers of any length or details, and the moderator was about as interesting as watching paint dry. Added to the fact that two very important issues were immediately taken off the table (Iraq and immigration), made for a rather unspectacular event.
I'm not going to rehash the high points and low points (virtually every right-leaning blog has talked about them in detail already) but, suffice it to say, there weren't that many. It was the ultimate "safe" debate, where all they had to do was show up, keep their answers short and sweet, maybe "sex" them up a bit for the inevitable sound-bytes that were sure to follow, and then go back to their hotel room. Needless to say, I doubt that very many (if any) people were swayed one way or the other in this debate.
Talking to a couple of my Republican friends, I feel very confident in that opinion. Nothing was said or done in the debate to make them rethink their choice. Nothing was said or done to make them even take a second look at one of the others.
And, more importantly, nothing was said or done that increased or diminished their current level of support. In short, the debate as a whole was a huge bust. It had virtually no impact whatsoever on the race here in Iowa.
I find it hard to believe that Huckabee is actually leading in the polls here in Iowa. Every person I spoke with told me that they're supporting Romney or Thompson and that everyone they knew or worked with (who are also Republicans) feels the same way. None of them have even considered Huckabee as a serious choice. It could be a fluke in the polling process or it could be a fluke in that I know people who are politically aligned with me and they, in turn, know and talk to others who think the way they do. Or it could be a little of both. I don't really know for sure.
On to the Democrats. Here's where it gets interesting.
Like the Republican debate, the Democratic debate was a yawner (a notable quote given to me was that it was "waterboarding for Democrats"...ouch!).
It didn't really sway them, their friends, their families, or their co-workers. They have basically picked their guy (or gal, as the case may be) and they're holding firm. In other words, just like the Republican debate before it, the Democratic debate didn't do much of anything except give the media some sound-bytes to tinker with.
Obama and Hillary are still locked in a dead heat and that doesn't appear to have changed.
But the direction in which they are clearly moving is that Hillary appears to be sliding and Obama appears to have the momentum going in his favor.
An example of Hillary's slide can be summed up by one of my friends. He mentions that Hillary appears to be fading fast in Dubuque, and that Obama yard signs outnumber hers by at least 10-1. Dubuque is an average size town (as far as Iowa goes) and tends to vote Democratic, so if she's losing (or lost) there, it could spell defeat for her next month in other similar areas.
What's the reason behind her falling poll numbers? I'd have to say it's because Team Hillary has been on the attack so much of late. Although they have tried to deny it or distance themselves from it, it's still happening. It's a trademark Clinton campaign tactic when they mention a smear of some type and then say "oops, we didn't mean it that way" or that they were misunderstood. They know full well that once it's out there, right or wrong, people remember the smear, not the apology that comes later.
Obama, to his credit, has responded in the best way possible, by not giving a response at all. He's being seen as above the fray while Hillary and company are being increasingly seen as desperate.
True, that could come back to haunt him later on. Most Democrats see John Kerry's defeat in 2004 as the result of his unwillingness to respond to any of the attacks on him. Whatever your particular belief on this subject, you have to admit that his trying to "remain above it all" ultimately blew up in his face.
Serious candidates cannot allow attacks to go unanswered for very long because, sooner or later, the public will begin to change their attitude of "he's not going to dignify it with a response" to one of "there must be something to it, or he would respond." Obama needs to start planning on how to smack down these attacks, and soon, or it may be crippling to him later on should he win the nomination.
To sum up, it appears to me - at this point - that we'll see a victory by Obama and Huckabee in the Iowa Caucuses. Obama, I think, is virtually assured a victory, unless the Clinton campaign drops a bombshell on him in the coming weeks that seriously erodes his support (given how hard they've been trying, it's quite possible they'll find something that will do the trick).
Huckabee, I think, is less of a certainty. As I mentioned earlier, the people I have spoken with are supporting either Romney or Thompson, and everyone they know is doing the same thing. They have seen little support for Huckabee. Either it's a flaw in the polls or a fluke in that like-minded conservatives tend to talk about these things with each other ("birds of a feather", you know). Time will tell, but unless something major happens between now and January 3, I'm going to predict a Huckabee win.
Brian Pickrell blogs at Liberty Pundit.