Last Friday (7 February), seven contenders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination took the stage for the last televised debate before this Tuesday's (11 February) New Hampshire Presidential Primary. It had been a rather strange week for them: what with the failure to publicly release the results of the Iowa Democratic Caucuses the previous Monday (3 February) evening, followed by the slow 'drip-drip-drip' of results (after an initial data-dump of nearly two-thirds of the voting) over the next two days or so.
If it had been a normal, more usual, night in Iowa, late last Monday evening on into the wee hours of the morning Tuesday would have seen the leading candidates claiming some kind of "victory" (whether they came in first in the caucus voting or not), middling candidates in the results claiming having been "winnowed in" and, thereafter, declaiming "On to New Hampshire!", with the candidates trailing far behind wringing their hands (at least privately) over whether or not they could still stay in the race; it is possible (if not even probable) that, as last week progressed, one or more contenders- if not amongst the 'debating seven', within the field of other contenders who did not so qualify- might have formally dropped out (if only through "suspending" their campaign[s], rather than withdrawing altogether)...
but none of the above happened, which in turn now puts New Hampshire's Democratic Presidential Primary in play in such a way not seen perhaps since the Iowa 'first in the nation' caucuses first became a nationally-recognized "thing" back in the mid-1970s.
So, what came out of Iowa anyway?
Back on Super Bowl Sunday, I wrote that the notion of a candidate having "won" Iowa will, in the main, have no real meaning, [u]nless the Democratic presidential contender who comes in first in Iowa's caucuses does so by a significant percentage point margin over the candidate immediately behind (or, alternatively, if the top two in Iowa are close to one another, yet both are still far ahead of 3rd place on down). What appears to have actually occurred in the Hawkeye State last Tuesday evening is the latter alternative: Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders being these "top two", certainly "close to one another" (regardless of what the ultimate certified results of the Iowa Democratic caucuses actually turn out to be: that is, which one ends up having been "first" in Iowa), with they being "still far ahead of 3rd place on down". Without question, both these candidates are in strongest position (if only at moment) coming out of Iowa...
and yet, because of that whole debacle with counting the caucus voting that evening, "a candidate having 'won' Iowa will, in the main, have no real meaning"!
Despite this, however, there is still much to discern on the Democrats' side of things coming out of Iowa: for I had also written, this past 2 February, that what to watch for... is simple: watch who gets, and who does not get, enough of the caucus voting to ultimately qualify for National Convention delegates pledged to them from the Hawkeye State. (Of course, I was also expecting us all to be doing so "as more and more results of the Iowa caucuses come in throughout the evening, and on into the night"-- which did not, as I've already said, actually happen!)
The "magic number" (actually, the 'magic percentage') here is 15 percent (the threshold established by the Democratic Party's national rules for qualifying for Delegates pledged to a particular candidate), I told everyone: and, indeed, we can now see- from at least the preliminary count of both 'State Delegate Equivalences', as well as the overall Popular Vote (both before, and after, switches were made from [at least in the vast majority of cases] nonviable candidates in the first rounds to candidates still viable going into the second and final rounds at each of the precinct caucuses)- just who, and who did not, make that 15 percent cutoff Tuesday evening:
Besides Mayor Buttigieg and Senator Sanders, already mentioned above, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden cleared that threshold statewide as well: in Senator Warren's case, by doing so she (at least for now) has made the case that 1. she can still well challenge Senator Sanders as a champion of the liberal, progressive wing of the Democratic Party; and 2. she can still best the likes of Vice-President Biden. New Hampshire still beckons as the place where she will have to continue to prove this (of which more later in this piece)...
as regards Joe Biden: yes, he had a bad night through doing the worst amongst the 'big three' (as I had identified them in my 3 February piece); but it could have been worse (much worse had he, instead, failed to clear at least the 15% threshold, let alone finish, say, 5th)! In this regard, Biden's 4th place finish is but a flattened, shredded tire on the Road to Nomination, rather than an outright car wreck: nevertheless, his campaign had better have gotten a tow, followed by all necessary repair, going into the Granite State (for reasons that will be discussed below)!
If there was a big loser amongst the seven (at this point) leading Democratic presidential contenders (other than, of course, Mike Bloomberg, still waiting in the wings re: 'Super Tuesday' [3 March this year])- those appearing onstage during last Friday's debate- it was Amy Klobuchar: I had written, on 3 February, that her "special interest", as it were, is to best represent the upper Midwest from which she herself hails (on the theory that, since Hillary Clinton lost in the Electoral College back in 2016 primarily through her inability to keep Donald Trump from winning Great Lakes States that would otherwise be expected to be in the Democrats' own column, Senator Klobuchar is herself the best equipped, among all the other Democratic presidential contenders [including the 'big three'] to win those very States back should she be the Democrats' presidential nominee...)
In relation to the above, I also wrote that Senator Klobuchar has an even more immediate 'micro' problem: for the first true test of strength amongst most of the Democratic presidential contenders- Iowa, of course- is actually in the Midwest! In the main, then, her whole 'I can win the Midwest [back] from President Trump' argument flounders if she ends up with a poor showing in the Hawkeye State.... Well-- Senator Klobuchar not only finished 5th, but also well below the 15% threshold statewide (not good for a candidate from a State adjacent to Iowa [and I will get to such potential "geographic advantages"- in this case, relative to New Hampshire- shortly]!).
Of the two Midwestern natives contending for the Democratic presidential nomination in Iowa last week, Mayor Buttigieg clearly showed he had the stronger support. Senator Klobuchar, thereby, comes to New Hampshire with the most to prove, more than any other candidate-- including (strange as this might seem) both Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang (neither of whom exhibited much grass roots support in Iowa)!
All in all, however, the delay in counting the caucus vote in Iowa- itself more often "the Graveyard of Presidential Ambition"- gave that Party's presidential contenders something of a reprieve: because of all the uncertainty surrounding the Iowa results as the candidates' respective aircraft themselves first touched down in the Granite State, candidacies that might otherwise have had problems even remaining in play after Iowa are still fighting on in New Hampshire. New Hampshire, thereby, the more becomes that 'Graveyard of Presidential Ambition' this coming week.
Yes, indeed: It's on to New Hampshire!
So, what should we all be watching for as the returns out of New Hampshire's Democratic Primary come in (hopefully, more rapidly than did Iowa's!) the evening of Tuesday 11 February?
All in all, the same thing we expected to be watching for (but did not immediately receive) from Iowa last Monday: after all, it's still the Delegates, stupid!; therefore, we have to see who actually gets Democratic National Convention delegates out of New Hampshire. And it is a lot harder, in the Granite State, for a candidate who comes in 5th (as did Senator Klobuchar in Iowa) to collect delegate pledges (Senator Klobuchar is promised 1 from Iowa [thanks to the Hawkeye State's 4th Congressional District]: that is, should she be able to continue contending for the nomination on into the Spring when the delegates chosen at each caucus in that State actually gather)-- which is merely all about the math; there are only two Congressional Districts in New Hampshire: those candidates who clear the 15 percent threshold (necessary to qualify for delegate pledges) statewide will, obviously, also have cleared 15 percent in at least one of those Districts; they will also likely have done well in the other, thus it will be mathematically more of a challenge for a contender who does not clear 15% in one District to nonetheless clear 15% in the one remaining District (Senator Klobuchar had a shot for at least 1 delegate out of Iowa in at least 1 of 4 Congressional Districts; a presidential contender in that same position come this Tuesday will have his or her odds pretty much cut in half!)
In Iowa, the two Midwesterners in the race- Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar- had the natural geographical, sectional advantage (which, as already noted, makes Senator Klobuchar's showing last week the more disappointing); this time round, in New Hampshire, that same geographical, sectional advantage goes to both Senator Bernie Sanders from neighboring Vermont and Senator Elizabeth Warren from neighboring Massachusetts. Like it or not, then, the focus starts on these two: Senator Warren has to finish at least as high as she did in Iowa (thus, no less than 3rd); meanwhile, Senator Sanders has something of a "double whammy": not just his geographical advantage, but also because how well he did in Iowa raises expectations for him in any event.
This last also applies to Mayor Buttigieg: they say "nothing succeeds like Success"-- but nothing puts the proverbial 'target on one's back' like success, either. If we here simply regard Buttigieg and Sanders as, at best, the "co-winners" in Iowa, there is now- as a result of that "win"- much pressure on Pete Buttigieg (perhaps even more than on Bernie Sanders, since Buttigieg is the leading 'outsider' in New England) to keep that momentum going: a failure to finish in the top three is a serious blow to Buttigieg's campaign. And, regardless of what is written in this and the preceding paragraph, the three aforementioned (Buttigieg, Sanders, and Warren) simply have to get delegate pledges out of New Hampshire! If any of these three come out of the Granite State empty-handed, it will be news.
The other news coming out of New Hampshire will be the finish of former Vice-President Joe Biden: it is clear that Vice-President Biden is pitting his hopes primarily on South Carolina, the last of the States that will (on Saturday 29 February) begin Delegate Selection prior to 'Super Tuesday' (2 March, when former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg fully enters the fray). But Biden has been the "front runner" in the Democratic Party presidential race pretty much since serious polling began almost a year ago now; he was one of the 'big three' (as I called them) going into Iowa: on name recognition alone, he is still one of the 'big three' (Pete Buttigieg still having to prove himself in New Hampshire, as I have said). It will be hard to maintain that status (especially if Mayor Buttigieg does well in the Granite State, finishing at least second to Senator Sanders, and ahead of Senator Warren-- let alone come in first) with another 4th place finish (or even worse, should- say- Senator Klobuchar somehow best him!)...
the former Vice-President's presidential bid will not be mortally wounded with such a finish, but it will also not be a mere flesh wound. Such a scenario will only engender even more, potentially distracting, questions for Biden as regards his campaign's overall political health for the remainder of this month of February going into South Carolina (moreover, it will begin to set up the Palmetto State as something of 'Joe's Last Stand'!). On the other hand, Joe Biden finishing among the top three (which will come at the great expense of either Buttigieg, Sanders, or Warren-- and, thereby, make the failure of at least one of these three so adversely affected only seem that much worse) might well change the whole landscape of the Democratic presidential nomination contest going into both Nevada and South Carolina later this month.
The only other change in this political landscape would be caused by a better than expected showing by Senator Klobuchar (especially if she manages to qualify for pledged National Convention delegates from New Hampshire): however, not doing better than expected will certainly cause Senator Klobuchar to reconsider just how much longer she can still run for President (for a poor showing on her part in the Granite State will surely cause donors to so reconsider further donations to her campaign, which might then make the decision for her)...
likewise, New Hampshire will also likely force the other Democratic presidential contenders-- not just Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang, but also Senator Michael Bennet and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard-- to seriously (or, perhaps, not) consider just how much longer they might want to keep going as this month of February continues. Only a shocking better than 15 percent showing- even if in only one of the Granite State's two Congressional Districts- will keep at least one of these respective campaigns truly viable at least going into Nevada on Saturday 22 February (if not even beyond to South Carolina a week thereafter).
A few notes on reaction to the Iowa Democratic Caucuses counting debacle
In the aftermath of the Iowa caucuses, there were numerous posts on social media (tweets and the like) about how "corrupt" the process was on the Democratic side, and how "three college students working over a pizza" could have done a better job tallying all the caucus results; the hashtag 'Bernie Is Getting Screwed' certainly well trended, for one. Sure, I get this-- this is kind of garbage that all too often passes for graver political discourse in today's America: much of it was but the moral equivalent of someone "TP'ing" (as we say here in Jersey) the Democrats' yard, while also egging their cars, on Mischief Night. Nonetheless, such sentiments as so expressed are irresponsible and, more to the point, flat out wrong!
Now, I well understand that Republicans in general, not to mention the more hardcore supporters of the re-election bid of President Trump in particular, don't in the least really care about how Democrats in Iowa might go about distributing their National Convention delegates amongst various and sundry presidential contenders they themselves are hardly likely to support, but the mathematics involved in these caucuses alone make it rather difficult to actually rig a caucus, one in which everyone chooses their respective candidates out in the open: thus, there are far too many witnesses to the resultant "car wreck"!
In the main, however, none of this is going to all that much matter when Americans go to the polls in the Presidential Election to be held in less than nine months time: we are here all suffering from a severe case of Recency Bias, where what might have happened in the last shorter period of time (the past few days, or at most weeks) is seen as being the more telling, much more relevant, than almost anything that might have come before it and, therefore, will appear to have far more of an impact on that which is yet to come than, in the end, it actually will.
Simply put: by the time the Fall General Election campaign is coming to its end- as next October turns into November- no one will much care what happened in Iowa last week!