A 0.3% whisker-thin victory is certainly preferable to a third position finish, but yet again the Iowa Democratic caucus has handed party frontrunner Hillary Clinton the message it delivered in 2008 – the grassroots isn’t in her yard.
In 2008, Iowa was expected to be her first stop on a sweep towards clinching the nomination as the party’s presidential candidate. Instead, she was left shell-shocked, bested not only by eventual nominee (and President) Barack Obama but even by John Edwards.
Eight years later, she’s escaped a similar mishap in an election cycle that’s even more favourable to her. Her principal competition comes from a senator who was formally an independent in the Senate, not a Democrat.
That’s Bernie Sanders, the Brooklyn-born Vermont socialist of Jewish origin, who only became a Democrat less than 12 months earlier as he entered the presidential race. Beyond him, nothing.
The caucus is a uniquely American electoral phenomenon that’s a feature of the primary cycle in the presidential race. Unlike regular elections, where voters queue to cast their ballots, during a caucus, voters actually congregate at a precinct, the equivalent of a polling booth, and express their support for a particular candidate.
The Democratic process does away with the secret ballot, as voters collect together according to their support for a candidate. On the Republican side, votes ultimately remain secret.
Unlike the 2008 field that also featured present vice-president Joe Biden and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. Clinton may have heaved a “big sigh of relief” after the result became apparent, but this was a field she ought to have blown away.
What Iowa evidences is that a truly viable candidate like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, if she had opted to run, would have easily done an Obama on Clinton in 2016.
Sanders claimed “a tie” as he spoke on Tuesday night. In effect, it was exactly that, with Clinton gaining just a couple of delegates more than him. Sanders is heavily favoured to win the next primary, in New Hampshire.
But beyond that, Clinton should rule, with primaries in Nevada and South Carolina, with their large Hispanic and African-American voting blocs, propelling her on.
But her 2008 problem persists, as the Sanders scare makes evident – young progressives aren’t in her corner. In fact, as her speech was being televised in a room in Des Moines full of Sanders rally-goers, chants of “She’s a liar” rang out. As Politico reported: “The room turned ice cold when Hillary Clinton’s speech took over the televisions here.”
It’s still winter and a snowstorm is headed towards Iowa, but Clinton and her campaign will certainly hope the thaw between her and progressives in her party sets in early.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)