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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Close Iowa Vote Helps Dems

Hillary Clinton has narrowly edged Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucuses. But her razor-close margin of victory is being called a “virtual tie” in media post-mortems, as well the Sanders campaign. It’s really a win-win for both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns, and their respective teams are brimming with excitement, going into New Hampshire.
For former Maryand Governor Martin O’Malley, it was the end of the trail, and he “suspended” his campaign. Credit O’Malley with running an upbeat, issue-oriented campaign and setting an example of admirable civility. In another year, he might have done better and the seriousness of his policies probably deserved better media coverage.
The close race between Clinton and Sanders helps both of them, and perhaps more importantly, the Democratic Party. An overwhelming Clinton victory would likely have revived the potentially-toxic “coronation” meme. The close margin insures that both campaigns will get more attention from voters as we move into the primary season. Up till now the Republicans, energized by Trump’s outrage du jour, have hogged media coverage. We’ll see more balance now, especially since he has been whipped pretty bad by Ted Cruz.
The same goes for the dignified tone of civility set by both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns. If they can sustain this spirit of mutual respect and a refusal to mud-wrestle, Democrats will be the adult party in the eyes of thoughtful swing voters in November.
Sen. Ted Cruz’s impressive upset, contrary to the findings of even the respected Des Moines register poll, holds a couple of instructive lessons about him for Democrats. First, his team has a solid ground game, and he is evidently a capable hands-on strategist and organizer. His successful campaign turn-out techniques merit some attention.
Second, Cruz apparently has little hesitancy about playing dirty, as the controversy about his late-campaign “report card” mailer indicates. Trump and Paul complained about it, as did the Iowa Secretary of State. The Cruz campaign also allegedly implied that Carson had dropped out of the race. It is noteworthy that none of the other Republican campaigns tried anything quite so sleazy.
Third, offending the ethanol industry, as did Cruz, is not political suicide in farming states in 2016. It may not even be risky.
Going forward, expect Trump to roll like a wounded whale. As for the rest of the Republican field, they are coming for front-runners Cruz, Trump and Rubio in a big way, and their field has only been winnowed by one drop-out, Huckabee, as of this writing.
The Clinton and Sanders campaigns will have to sharpen their offense, now that it is clear that theirs is a close race. But surely both campaigns “get it” that maintaining a high tone — and a unified party — will serve them well in November

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