Goodbye, Iowa Caucuses…

Being at about the age where many friends and institutions on the older side of at least one standard deviation disappear each year, I’m getting used to saying goodbye to a few friends, motorcycle shops, and great legacy products every year. In the case of the Iowa caucuses, that great and entertaining rite of democracy may not predictably return in three years or so.

Now the Iowa caucuses did their job, and with the exception of the late results, Iowa performed better than ever. I attended a caucus and it was run strictly by the book with midwest precision and no tolerance for error, in contrast to past caucuses when we knew there was plenty of statistical noise in the results from voters who got in the wrong precinct and couldn’t get out to the shenanigans of political hacks such as myself. With paper ballots being used for the first time, the whole caucus could be reconstructed on a thousand school lunchroom tables if there’s any doubt as to the results.

But who won?

Bernie AND Pete at about 26% of the delegates each, Bernie taking the more progressive strongholds in the cities and Pete the rural counties. 538 predicted otherwise, but other than Pete’s over performance it was exactly what political science 101 and I would predict- progressives do best in the cities and moderates do best in farm country.

And who’s still in the race?

Historically Iowa’s role was to narrow the field, but no candidate has dropped out. Predictably Elizabeth won on the campus, but the only county she won was U Iowa’s. Liz split the progressive vote with Bernie with her 18% share, total them together and we see the progressive dems strength at a losing 44% in this prototypical midwest swing state. Memo to the Iowa democrats: Run moderate candidates for statewide offices.

Joe Biden massively underperformed, his 16% of the delegates well forecast by the soft support I saw for Joe at an event but missed by the polls. Amy beat 538’s 9% prediction, winning 12% of the delegates, but won several rural counties in the Rochester, Minnesota TV market. That puts Amy just below the 15% viability threshold for winning delegates and Amy may pass that threshold only in northwest Iowa’s 4th congressional district, and with only five national convention delegates available there Amy will be lucky to get one DNC delegate out of Iowa.

Like Pete’s best turf, most of Joe’s and Amy’s support came from rural counties, put the three moderates delegates together they won a 54% majority of the delegates. That blows the progressive’s argument that you just need an inspiring progressive candidate like Bernie or a PC policy wonk like Liz to win rural turf, and if a progressive candidates can’t win a majority of democrat’s votes, how are they going to win the republicans?

If this were a traditional Iowa caucus Amy and everyone that finished below her would drop out, ‘cept the vanity candidates. But thanks to the incredible success of online fundraising everybody’s got not just gas money but business jet charter money to fly off to New Hampshire before the real Iowa caucus results come out and shade their prospects. Throw in the two billionaires already going nowhere in the race and a third that just jumped in, and we’ve got the makings of a contested convention in Milwaukee and a wounded presidential nominee coming out of that convention.

I’m going to miss the Iowa caucuses- It was an opportunity for voters to communicate with the candidates on a personal basis, and vice versa. Criticize Iowa for it’s lack of diversity, but good luck finding a state that matches the ten or so states that really decide the electoral college where you can buy prime TV time for less than $1000 a spot.

And I’m gonna miss making a short drive to meet the candidates in person, pick my candidate, and then see the effects of my campaigning at a friendly neighborhood caucus. Like the manual transmission and desktop computers, we’re gonna miss the Iowa caucuses when they’re gone!

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