Iowa serves its purpose to thin the herd – bring on New Hampshire

NH3Hats off to the voters of Iowa. After a year of blather from candidates across the board in both parties, it took the Iowa Caucuses, the nation’s first presidential nominating contest, to hone the focus of the campaign and clear away some of the cluttered challengers vying for America’s office of chief executive.

Once the Iowa Caucuses concluded, the following candidates withdrew from the race:  Sen. Rand Paul (KY); Gov. Mike Huckabee (AR); Sen. Rick Santorum (PA); and Gov. Martin O’Malley (MD).

In addition to narrowing the field, the Iowa results reset the narrative about each campaign as the focus shifts east to the New Hampshire primaries.

The big winners were Sen. Ted Cruz (TX), Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT), and Sen. Marco Rubio (FL).

Cruz won on the Republican side, securing 51,666 votes, with Donald Trump coming in second at 45,427 and Rubio secured a strong third place showing with 43,165 votes.

But let’s dive into these results to examine what was uncovered. Iowa is heavily evangelical, and tailor-made for Cruz. He was leading or near the top going into the evening, and the results showed the Cruz campaign turned out its vote with an inspiring ground game.

Sounds great right, but the story line sticking to Cruz is his campaign skewed information about Ben Carson departing Iowa after the caucuses for a trip home to Florida. Robo-calls were placed on behalf of the Cruz campaign to caucus-goers prior to voting that indicated Dr. Carson was suspending his campaign after Iowa, and to not waste a vote on him, but instead caucus for Cruz.

Rep. Steve King, a subordinate to the Cruz campaign, tweeted the same information. The campaign has tried spinning its way out of this, but there is no way around the fact that Cruz’s people misrepresented this information for their own benefit in an attempt to dissuade Iowans from backing Carson.

Cruz won by more than 6,000 over Trump, with Carson coming in a distant fourth. The fraudulent messaging is not what caused that spread, but it adds to the narrative that Cruz is shady and unlikable.

The bigger storyline was Trump lost. If second is for losers, as Trump has stated previously, what does that make the Donald?

His inexperience showed. The combination of not making the personal contacts with voters, skipping the Republican debate and having no ground game cost Trump in Iowa. He still came in second, but the loss punctured Trump’s appearance of invulnerability.

What we’ve learned post-Iowa is that while Trump draws the largest crowds, many in attendance actually support other Republican candidates. People come to catch a free show of the spectacle that is the Donald.

When looking at Trump’s polling numbers before voting in Iowa compared to the final results, we see one in five of his polled supporters either didn’t show up on caucus night or supported another candidate, in particular Marco Rubio.

No doubt Rubio had a huge night in Iowa. He is a young, rising star, full of charisma, but lacking in experience. He became the sole establishment candidate to break away from the pack by finishing a strong third, 2,262 votes behind Trump.

It is yet to be verified whether Rubio’s poor debate performance last Saturday will cost him with voters. Gov. Chris Christie took him to task for having no remarkable career accomplishments, and only providing scripted responses to questions. These insinuations went to the heart of the question of whether the young senator has the necessary experience to serve as president.

This came on the heels of Sen. Santorum offering his endorsement of Rubio earlier in the week after dropping out of the race, but when questioned on live television was unable to offer one specific accomplishment by the Florida senator that swayed him in making his decision.

Prior to his debate performance Saturday, Rubio was considered the one candidate out of a group that includes Gov. Chris Christie (NJ), Gov. Jeb Bush (FL) and Gov. John Kasich (OH) that would fill the establishment lane for Republicans.

As residents in New Hampshire head to the polls today, both Kasich and Bush have surged to second and third place in recent polling behind the Donald. There is only room for one of these candidates to make a move, as donations will begin to dry up for those not considered viable.

Unfortunately in this election cycle, it seems the Republican base is looking to make a change. They feel lied to by establishment politicians. It doesn’t matter which Republicans have been elected, the ideals of the fringe right are never achieved.

Support for Cruz appears to be limited to states having substantial evangelical populations. That makes it Trump versus the establishment for who will be the Republican nominee.

The GOP faces a vexing question. Either it’s going to find a way to silence some of its far right minority, learn to play nicely with others and actually govern – or risk becoming a party of knuckle draggers, interested more in grandstanding about perceived infringements on personal freedoms and advocating a platform that violates Constitutional guarantees.

This question must first be answered before the party will be able to select its candidate. I’m wondering if the different factions within the party are too polarized to make that happen.

Surprisingly the Democratic nomination process has risen to become as interesting as the clown car atmosphere seen on the Republican side.

NH1Hillary Clinton originally had more than a 30 point lead over Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT) in Iowa. Well she lost that lead, and ended up eking out a contested quarter point victory in the caucuses.

The Clinton machine had huge advantages in name recognition, experience, money and organization coming into Iowa – and essentially ended up tied with a 74-year old democratic-socialist from Vermont.

Regardless of who won, Bernie’s performance and Clinton’s collapse is the story line.

Sec. Clinton has a real problem. You can feel it. Simply look at one of her events and then watch Sanders address his crowds. The energy, devotion and momentum are all with Sanders. There is little joy evident in the Clinton campaign.

Democratic voters are angry that the middle class continues to get pummeled, and those voters are turning to Sanders, not Clinton.

Thus far she is unable to attract voters younger than 40, particularly female, and is having difficulty reaching out to the heart of the Democratic Party.

This doesn’t mean Hillary can’t win the nomination. She has an impeccable pedigree, a massive organization and is best suited to take on any Republican challenger, but Clinton carries so much baggage with her she needs a personal skycap out on the campaign trail.

Sanders has a groundswell of support for his blue-collar, populist message, that the system is rigged against the little guy.

Clinton took considerable money from Wall Street benefactors. What did that money buy? Access at the very least for Wall Street to the political process through Clinton.

She is homogenized, slick, commercial and mass-produced. Clinton is the establishment.

That is a problem in a year when outsiders are all the rage. On the campaign trail she is trying to spin that she stands with the middle class, but it’s a hard sell to convince the base that she will look out for their best interests over Wall Street when she took so much of their money.

The argument against Bernie is his policy initiatives will potentially cost trillions and that he can’t win the wider political contest. The establishment keeps pushing this idea, but Sanders won in Iowa and is up big in New Hampshire.

The hindrance I see with Hillary’s candidacy is she can’t distill why she is running into one sentence. Trump and Bernie can offer prospective voters precisely why they have thrown their hats in the ring; to make America great again; and the system is rigged against the little guy.

When looking at Clinton’s gumption, it’s more about her having the connections, access to money, and chiefly, it being her turn to run.

That is not particularly inspiring, and her recent results reflect this.

People make the mistake of wanting Hillary to be Bill and she is not. Sec. Clinton has a different skill set, but lacks a certain intangible that allows her to connect with voters in the same fashion as her husband. It’s a question of believability. Whether it’s fair or not, there are those that feel she is hiding something.

It’s far too early in the nominating process yet, but Hillary must find a way to appeal to the anger, anxiety and apprehension that is fueling Democratic and Republican voters alike, or the socialist from tiny Vermont will pull off an upset for the ages.

Regardless, I believe either Democratic candidate is better suited to help the working class and the diverse population America encompasses today.

The leading Republican candidates as a whole are even less inclusive than the loony batch from 2012. The GOP continues to hitch its wagon to supporting the super-wealthy, the fossil fuel industry, shuns minorities and immigrants and can’t wrap its collective head around climate change.

Unless the Republicans wake up and stop validating the religious right and its insistence to push exclusionary social policies, their party’s presidential aspirations will remain an unlikely sell.

On to New Hampshire we go!

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