PJ Media

Making History in Iowa

6:55 pm PST: A Key Turn in American History for Obama, A Big Win for Huckabee

Barack Obama is now pulling away in Iowa, with a lead in the high single digits over John Edwards and Hillary Clinton.

Folks, Iowa is a 95% white state. Obama is a black man. There is no black vote for him to rely on in Iowa, even amongst Democrats. This is historic.

The question is who ends up third in the Democratic race, John Edwards or Hillary Clinton. It doesn’t look promising for Hillary.

Meanwhile, Mike Huckabee has shattered Mitt Romney on the Republican side, who outspent him more than 10 to 1.

None of this is a surprise to New West Notes readers.

6:19 pm PST: Early Dem Returns Largely Reflect Rural Iowa

The seeming deadlock, which has a very slight Obama edge, reflects the John Edwards stronghold.

6:04 pm PST: Huckabee Romps Over Romney, Tight Dem Race with Big Turnout

A big disappointment for Mitt Romney in Iowa, who outspent Mike Huckabee there by more than 10 to 1, as he suffers a double-digit loss.

On the Democratic side, a big turnout will likely delay the final results. In the entrance poll, it’s a deadlock between the top three of John Edwards, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton. But the second choices will determine the winner, and for that we must wait.

4:28 pm PST: Gathering

Iowa’s caucus participants are getting ready to gather now. It’s fairly cold in the Hawkeye State, but clear. In the 20s in the relative metropolitan Des Moines area. Which compared to some Iowa caucuses past is a bit on the balmy side.

PJM correspondent Dave Musgrove, from the Democratic presidential caucus at Teddy Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, reports that there is “a logjam at the registration desk” as of 6:10 PM Central time. The deadline to get in, or at least be in line, is 6:30 PM. Eastern time, of course, is one hour later, Mountain time one hour earlier, and Pacific time two hours earlier.

The campaign based on a lower turnout on the Democratic side is John Edwards. On the Republican side, it’s Mitt Romney.

Will the (relatively) good weather advantage Democrat Barack Obama (looking for a big turnout of independents and young people), Democrat Hillary Clinton (looking for a big turnout of older women), and Mike Huckabee (looking for a big turnout of Christian evangelicals)?

The direction of the presidential race in both parties hinges on those answers.

3:30 pm PST: The “Float,” The Caucuses, And “The Cacti”

There comes a time on every election day which some of us call “The Float.” It refers to a period of the day in which it is all in the hands of the gods and campaign GOTV (Get Out The Vote) operations. In which talk and speculation becomes increasingly idle. Even if one party, the Republicans, has someone who is always out to rally the Faithful. That would be Rush Limbaugh, out to save the party, or at least his rather doctrinaire conception of it, from Mike Huckabee and perhaps, by attenuation, John McCain.

This is particularly true on Iowa Caucus day. Because one can’t busy oneself, in many cases usefully, by looking at turnout patterns around the state. Because no one has actually turned out. There are no absentee ballots in the Iowa presidential caucuses. No one is voting during the day, so I can’t wheedle network exit poll information out of anyone. It all happens tonight. And the only people who have the faintest idea of what is actually happening in terms of who participates, i.e., the people running the turnout operations for each campaign, are simply spinners. Even they don’t know who will show up, because no one has shown up yet.

Which leaves us rumor, informed speculation, and atmospherics.

Here are some atmospherics. A very reliable source was around the Clintons earlier today at their hotel in the lovely Iowa state capital, the Hotel Fort Des Moines. He described the once and perhaps future First Couple as seeming like they had “a pair of cacti up their behinds.”

The fact that the Hotel Fort Des Moines is anything but the sort of five-star accommodation that global statesman Bill has become accustomed to may not be the explanation.

2:10 pm PST: John Edwards and The Reduced Universe Approach

Talk to John Edwards folks and you hear about the reduced universe. No, that’s not what they call it, but that’s what it is. Nor is it about what some on the right might fear about this most left-leaning of the top tier Democrats, that he literally wants to monkey around with the universe itself, in some ultimate form of social engineering.

No, it’s about an approach to the electorate. His campaign in Iowa is predicated on winning the core Democratic caucus-goers who always turn out.

Strategist Joe Trippi says the campaign plans for a bit more than turned out last time around, which was about 125,000 Democrats participating in the caucuses. Hillary and Obama are planning for more than that. With Hillary relying on women, especially older women. And Obama relying on young people and independents.

Edwards is relying on the Democratic stalwarts.

PJM correspondent Brian Pickrell took some soundings in blue collar Ottumwa and found Edwards doing very well with that approach. As far as that approach goes.

“The Democrats in Ottumwa,” he reports, “are going to back Edwards. At least that was what I was hearing at all of the places I visited and the people I spoke with. One older couple, he being retired from John Deere, said they were backing him because of his support for the unions. John Deere has been in the news lately because they’ve been trying to streamline their benefits packages. The unions are claiming they’re cutting benefits, but the company is saying that’s not true. And when the unions say the sky is falling, the loyal followers believe them. So it’s an issue with the voters in the area, trust me.

“Most of the people I spoke with were backing the same populist message that Edwards has been promising: universal health care, energy independence, getting out of Iraq, etc.”

But will that hyperpartisan Democratic core be enough for Edwards to overcome the new voters Obama is trying to turn out, and the women voters Clinton is counting to come out in unusual numbers? Edwards hasn’t shown Obama’s appeal to independents, so in his version of how to beat the Clinton machine, he’s run to the populist left. We’ll soon see if that approach falls short.

12:11 pm PST: Sensing Opportunity after Tonight, McCain Moves on Michigan

This campaign is not unlike 3-D chess. John McCain, who has barely appeared in Iowa but might pull a surprise third, is coming on strong now in New Hampshire. And sensing furhter vulnerability in Mitt Romney, today he is launching a TV campaign for the January 15th Michigan primary.

McCain is tied with Romney in New Hampshire in yesterday’s CNN poll. Today, a tracking poll from Franklin Pierce College gives him a six-point lead over Romney in New Hampshire. And now McCain, who was today endorsed by the Detroit News, is launching a TV ad in Michigan, where Romney — whose father was once governor of Michigan — has been leading. He’s been pushing himself as a maverick reformer, a pitch that worked for him when he won the Michigan primary in 2000 over George W. Bush.

“Since I’ve been in Washington, I’ve made a lot of people angry. I upset corrupt lobbyists and special interests when I passed campaign finance reform. I made the Pentagon angry when I took on Rumsfeld and said we needed a different strategy in Iraq.I angered the big spenders in Congress by opposing their pork projects and calling for ethics reform. I don’t like the business as usual crowd in Washington. But I love America. I love her enough to make some people angry.”

He’s certainly been good at annoying more than a few conservatives on immigration, and liberals on Iraq.

11:40 am PST: Bill Clinton Says It’s Huck in Iowa

Former President Bill Clinton, stumping furiously yesterday throughout Iowa trying to salvage a win for his wife, predicted that fellow ex-Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee will win the Iowa Republican caucuses tonight.

Clinton and Huckabee are both from Hope, Arkansas, though they crossed swords, as it were during Huckabee’s two-and-a-half terms as governor. But they have a lot of the same skills.

Clinton, incidentally, is telling associates, who are telling people like me, that Hillary doesn’t have to win Iowa tonight. A good showing is all she needs.

Okay then.

11:14 am PST: The Rudy Factor

Where’s Rudy Giuliani, the erstwhile national frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination?

He’s nowhere near Iowa today, which he has essentially conceded as a lost cause.

The former New York mayor and hero of 9/11 did a town hall meeting this morning in New Hampshire, then took off for Florida. He has a rally this afternoon in Florida, then will view the Iowa returns tonight from the Sunshine State.

Then he is off to campaign in New Hampshire, in advance of the Granite State’s primary next Tuesday. Giuliani once led in New Hampshire, but, despite a big TV push about a month ago, has since fallen well off the pace.

New Hampshire is now a two-man race between Mitt Romney, former governor of neighboring Massachusetts, and John McCain, who beat George W. Bush in New Hampshire in 2000.

Although Giuliani stopped in Iowa more than a dozen times — and was there again late last month — it never came together for him there. Now he’s running behind Ron Paul in the latest polls. Fox News, incidentally, doesn’t want Paul in the big New Hampshire Republican debate it’s airing on Saturday. If Paul beats Giuliani in Iowa, and he’s already proved to be the biggest Republican fundraiser of the fourth quarter of 2007, with some $20 million, his fervent and highly energetic supporters will have a field day with that.

10:07 am PST: Weather, Numbers, and Spin

So let’s talk weather, which impacts turnout, rallies (big for Obama), polls (there’s another tracking poll with different results than the Reuters/Zogby poll), and spin (Team Hillary is readying for a loss).

PJM correspondent Dave Musgrove reports the weather as clear and cold. It started out at a brisk 13 degrees, headed for a forecast high of 30. Urban streets are fine, he says. “Dirt roads out in the country are still iced over in many places, which could marginally impact turnout in rural precincts.”

In other words, not bad weather for this time of year, better than in a number of past caucuses. Obama is counting on a strong turnout of young people and independents, Hillary is counting on older women, many of whom will need to be driven in the cold by a fleet of cars, estimated at some 5000.

They weren’t turning out in big numbers yesterday for Hillary’s rallies, according to a number of sources. The music tended toward the old-timey, and low energy. John Edwards’ rallies were bigger, Obama’s the biggest, culminating last night with a high-energy 2000-plus in Des Moines.

The Republican events are smaller, in the hundreds.

Incidentally, Musgrove reports swinging past campaign offices and seeing hordes of cars with out of state license plates, including Illinois, New York, Arkansas, Minnesota, Florida and Colorado.

Four years ago, the Zogby tracking poll for Reuters correctly forecast the order of finish in Iowa. Here are its final results this time around. Democrats: Obama 31%, John Edwards 27%, Hillary Clinton 24%. Republicans: Huckabee 31%, Mitt Romney 25%, Fred Thompson 11%, John McCain 10%, and Ron Paul 10%. Zogby shows a definite falling trend for Hillary over the past two days and rising for Obama, and to a certain degree, Edwards. With Huckabee developing some separation from Romney on the Republican side.

But there is another tracking poll, from a private firm called the American Research Group. It’s frequently been an “outlier” — in other words, off the pace of other respected poll. Here are its results.

Hillary Clinton leading with 34%, followed by Barack Obama at 25% and John Edwards at 21%. Second choices amongst the second tier candidates include: Biden supporters with 31% saying Obama, 25% Edwards, 12% Clinton. Richardson supporters with 31% saying Edwards, 19% Obama. (Intriguingly, word is that Richardson backers are being instructed in those caucuses where they fail to reach the threshold to back Obama.)

On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee leads Mitt Romney 29% to 24%, with 13% for Fred Thompson.

No report is complete without a complement of spin. Here it gets interesting.

Some interesting background spin from the Clinton circle: She’s done well in Iowa and finishing in a clump at the top with Barack Obama and John Edwards is a sign of strength. Translation: They’re preparing for the eventuality of a Hillary second or even third place finish.

06:50 am PST: Kick-Off

Following the appearance of two leading candidates on last night’s late night shows, today is the day, at last, the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. The Zogby tracking poll through last night places Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee in the lead in their parties. I’ll be providing all-day coverage of Iowa and its meaning, weaving in reports from correspondents and contacts inside and outside of the Hawkeye State.

Here are the Zogby tracking poll numbers through last night.

Democrats: Obama 31%, John Edwards 27%, Clinton 24%.

Republicans: Huckabee 31%, Mitt Romney 25%, Fred Thompson 11%, John McCain 10%, and Ron Paul 10%.

All other candidates in both parties are in single digits.

Crazy like a fox (maybe) Mike Huckabee and stuck-in-a-scrum (at the time) Hillary Clinton both appeared last night on the reappearance of America’s big national late night TV talk shows.

The writers strike isn’t over, but the Writers Guild has reached a separate agreement with David Letterman’s production company, so Hillary’s appearance didn’t have her crossing any picket lines, virtual or otherwise. There’s sensitivity to the idea of her bailing on Iowa the night before, even for a few hours.

No such worries in the Huckabee camp. He appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Which does not have a deal with the Writers Guild. But he’s a Republican, albeit one endorsed by the International Association of Machinists, so that’s not a big deal. What is a big deal is that he appeared in person, at the Burbank Studio, where Arnold Schwarznegger legendarily announced his 2003 California gubernatorial campaign and where Fred Thompson not so legendarily announced his presidential run. Yes, he left Iowa, which some pundits thought to be a big deal. But the taping took place in the very later afternoon, Iowa is two hours ahead of California, it’s not a long flight, and, he coined a phrase, as it were, saying he’ll be back.

It was a smart move, assuming his numbers hold, for Huckabee, who was smooth, funny, and personable. A good way to set the stage for the next phase of his candidacy.

For Hillary, it was a way to remind that she is a national candidate, who continues on even if she finishes third in Iowa. But her bit was only a bit, prerecorded, and amounted to only a joking introduction of Letterman.

Huckabee showed that he’s not one of those scary preachers. “I’m just trying to keep from going back to nowhere as fast as I can,” he told Leno. “People are looking for a presidential candidate who reminds them more of the guy they work with rather than the guy that laid them off. I think that’s part of what’s going on right now.”

He talked up his low-income background, his parents scrimping to get him a $99 guitar when he was a boy. “Do you think you’re good enough to sit in with our band later?” Leno asked him. Huckabee: “No, but I’d like to do it anyway.” Of course, he did, playing bass guitar with the Tonight Show band. he wasn’t bad.

He talked up his tenure as a Baptist minister as a way to relate to the average American. “You see every single social pathology that’s out there. Nothing is abstract to you. You put a name and a face on everything, and I really began to believe that so many people making decisions that affect the way we live, the way our future would be governed, didn’t have a clue about how people were really struggling. It became evident to me that there were a lot of folks making decisions that didn’t understand poverty, hunger or disease. They didn’t understand the challenges that people had in their families.”

Huckabee also gave a nice spin to his last minute, seemingly, decision to pull his attack ad against Romney, which many pundits said marked the end of his candidacy. And he closed with this intriguing thought.

“I have a great respect for Barack Obama,” Huckabee said. “I think he’s a person who is trying to do in many ways what I hope I’m trying to do, and that is to say, let’s quit what I call ‘horizontal politics.’ Everything in this country is not left, right, liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican. I think the country is looking for somebody who is vertical, who is thinking, ‘Let’s take America up and not down,’ and people will forgive you for being left or right if you go up.”

Hillary’s bit was much less impactful. She opened Letterman’s show with this taped introduction: “Dave has been off the air for eight long weeks because of the writers strike. Tonight, he’s back. Oh, well, all good things come to an end.”

If Clinton finishes third tonight, as the Zogby tracking poll would have it, she’ll need some better jokes than that.

This report was written by PJM’s Bill Bradley and includes updates from the ground by Dave Musgrove of Des Moines and Brian Pickrell of Agency.