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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Gettin’ Real in Iowa

We’re now one month out from the Iowa Caucuses, and it’s no longer possible to say it’s “too early” to get a handle on what may happen on January 3. That’s why yesterday’s new Des Moines Register poll of likely Democratic and Republican caucus-goers is worth a look. (Another reason is that Iowans pay a lot of attention to Caucus coverage by the Register; more than you might think in this post-print-media era. The Register‘s own candidate endorsements, likely to come out on the eve of the Caucuses, could actually matter, as evidenced by the boost the paper gave John Edwards in the Des Moines area in 2004).
The poll confirms Barack Obama (leading Clinton and Edwards 28-25-23) and Mike Huckabee (leading Mitt Romney 29-24) as the “candidates on the move” in Iowa. It also indicates that lower-tier candidates in both parties aren’t in a very good position to make a last-minute surge (among Democrats, Richardson’s stuck at 9% and Biden at 6%, and among Republicans, Giuliani, at 13%, is the only other double-digit candidate), at a time when caucus-goers are likely to begin firming up their preferences.
Typically, the Register isn’t very forthcoming in releasing internal poll findings, though sometimes they publish them later. According to a David Yepsen column, Obama’s now leading Clinton among women, and has apparently moved ahead of Edwards among those most likely to participate in the Caucuses. And another Register article tells us that on the Republican side, Romney’s more dependent than Huckabee on support from the younger voters who are traditionally least likely to show up.
Yepsen makes the obvious point that the unprecedented proximity of the Caucuses to the holidays could have an inhibiting effect on negative advertising. But the more salient fact is probably that a high percentage of Iowans will be spending a lot of time in front of the tube in the period between Christmas and January 3, and many will also be off work and at home to take or ignore campaign robo-calls.
Speaking of television, my favorite question in the Register poll asks likely Caucus-goers if they are “tempted” to stay home and watch the Kansas-Virginia Tech Orange Bowl game on the evening of January 3 instead of bundling up and discharging their civic obligations. Only 5% of Republicans and 4% of Democrats report that they are struggling with this decision, which would be a huge factor if an Iowa team was playing in Miami. Maybe regional solidarity will convince a few Iowans to watch the Jayhawks play, and you have to figure that Gov. Chet Culver, a former Hokie football player, will be casting a few glances at the scoreboard. But overall, it shouldn’t matter much.

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