Interpreting Iowa

Now that the dust of Iowa has somewhat settled (replaced by the dust clouds of candidates jetting off to the frozen north of New Hampshire), let's step back and consider what just happened:

Obama pulled out an impressive win over a candidate who, up until recently, had been the presumptive nominee. And he managed to do it in a very white state while being black. Everyone is all up in a tizzy about how historic that is. Let's try to lengthen our memories a little and remember that Jesse Jackson won 11 primaries in 1988. You have to imagine that barring some Dean-esque disaster, Obama will beat that number, but let's give the Rainbow Coalition some respect. Also, in thinking about how many primaries Obama might win, consider that despite the winner's glow now handed to him by the press (and the alleged destruction of the Clinton and Edwards campaigns), Iowa is far from an indicator of future electoral success. Since 1972, there have been seven (update: sorry for the miscount, there have been six) Democratic Iowa caucuses (cauci?) in which a sitting president or vice president wasn't running. Of those six, the winner has gone on to become the nominee twice. You may remember Bill Clinton's stirring campaign there in 1992, when he won a whopping 3% of the vote, behind 12% of voters who were so stirred with passion for his candidacy that they voted "uncommitted."

As for the Republicans, congrats to Huckabee for pulling out the miracle win. Now, you have no money, the Republican establishment hates you, and, according to them, your schtick wont fly nearly as well in New Hampshire, et al, as it did in Iowa. They are probably right. On the other hand, you are disarmingly charming to the point that Democrats-not to mention your grotesquely uncharming Republican opponents-should be shaking in their boots about you. You take your four New Hampshire staff members and go get 'em.

Just remember, there is a long way to go. A win in Iowa doesn't mean anything, unless a candidate makes it mean something by winning a lot more after it.