The first votes of the 2016 election have been cast by the citizens of Iowa, and we have two clear winners — except not at all. The much anticipated Iowa caucus was a tight race on both sides. Ted Cruz was declared the winner for the Republicans narrowly defeating Donald Trump and Marco Rubio by a margin of only 4.5 percent, while the Democratic results were left to the flip of a coin literally.
Since the conclusion of the caucus and the build up to the New Hampshire primary, four candidates have dropped out, and polling has been shifting. When this article is published, the New Hampshire primary will have concluded. I must unfortunately write this the day before, so no information on the primary will appear in this piece, but I can speculate. I’m guessing that Bernie Sanders will win by 15 points (Editor’s note: Sanders won by 22 percent), while Donald Trump will defeat Marco Rubio narrowly with John Kasich coming in third (Editor’s note: Trump beat second- and third-place finishers John Kasich and Cruz by a wide margin). I may be wrong on that, but we’ll see.
In regards to Iowa, Donald Trump’s impressive poll numbers proved to be misleading. Ted Cruz defeated the New York billionaire easily and was almost surpassed by Marco Rubio, who experienced a sudden surge of support in the final days. Rubio’s Iowa showing astounded pundits and resulted in an outburst of support for the senator nationwide. Entrance polls showed that Rubio was the candidate most voters decided on in the final hours before the caucus. His surge of support was declared an unofficial victory by many observers. While Ted Cruz may have officially won the state, the real story was “Marcomentum.”
While he came in third place, I have to agree with the pundits: Marco Rubio “won” the Iowa caucus. How is that possible when he came in third? Presidential primaries are all about momentum. Ted Cruz’ victory in Iowa was reflective of his polling numbers leading up to the caucus, meaning his results were exactly what one would have predicted. Trump was polling near 31 percent before the caucus but received only 24 percent of the vote, performing much worse than many had expected.
Rubio was polling at 15 percent before the caucus but received 23 percent of the vote, almost overtaking Trump for a second place finish. This “Marcomentum,” as described by his campaign, has been felt on the ground in states across the country, especially in New Hampshire and South Carolina. His surge in support is happening at just the right time when the voting is actually taking place and matters. Will this momentum hold true in New Hampshire and South Carolina? Only time will tell, but Iowa was a major victory for the Rubio campaign.
While Rubio came out of Iowa with his head held high, many other candidates have seen this surge in support as a threat. This perception of a threat takes us to Rubio’s disastrous night at the latest Republican debate. From the beginning, Rubio was the target of attacks, especially by the bombastic New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
Christie didn’t hold back, slamming Rubio on his “scripted” answers and his lack of experience. I’ll admit that Rubio could have handled the exchange better, however Chris Christie has no right to criticize a candidate for being “scripted.” If you have seen any of the GOP debates, I’m sure you remember Christie’s talking about how he was a federal prosecutor appointed the day before 9/11, and he would love to “prosecute Hillary Clinton” in a debate setting. It’s memorable because he has said it in every debate, all eight of them.
The way I see it, Christie is justifiably afraid of the Rubio surge, as it cuts into the establishment voting block he so desperately needs. The problem is that Christie is shooting himself in the foot if he or anyone wants an establishment candidate to be the nominee. Rubio, Christie, Kasich and Bush are all vying for these voters, a tension which essentially sets up the prisoner’s dilemma. It’s in the establishment’s best interest to cooperate. as it would lead to a reasonable candidate to counter Trump and Cruz. However the candidates won’t cooperate, which splits the vote and hurts all four of them.
Despite the onslaught of attacks, Rubio was seemingly unaffected in polls, placing second in the debate behind Trump amongst focus groups. I still firmly believe he has the best shot at winning a general election against Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.
As for the Democrats: What a night for Bernie Sanders. Here is a candidate who a year ago was referred to as “unelectable” and “too far left” for the American presidency. Hillary Clinton dominated polling for months in Iowa and saw it as an easy win for her campaign not too long ago. While she did officially win the state, Sanders ability to come within 0.2 percent of her was a major victory for the Sanders campaign. “What Iowa has begun tonight is a political revolution,” Sanders declared to a crowd of vibrant supporters. Sanders’ calls to get money out of politics, his desire to impose more restrictions and penalties on Wall Street and his fervent disgust for the billionaire class have resonated with voters in a remarkable way.
Sanders captured nearly 50 percent of caucus-goers’ support with virtually no help from the Washington establishment, receiving only 14 party superdelegates to Clinton’s 356. The official results of the caucus are even left open for debate, as six precincts were so close a coin was flipped to decide the winner. Hillary won all six coin tosses. Unless Clinton can pull off some miracle, Sanders will win New Hampshire. However, he may run into problems in South Carolina where he hasn’t yet experienced widespread support. Obviously there is still plenty of time for Sanders to build up a southern coalition, but I’d argue that the Clinton operation has a firm grasp on South Carolina as well as all Super Tuesday states.