Back in the early 1970s, the Democratic Party thought it would be a good idea to have a new way to start the contest by having a small state, or two, go first, so candidates & voters could partake in "retail politics." Generally, this has been a way for lesser known candidates with less money to have a shot at the nomination of their party. This idea appealed to the Republicans too, so their party also picked Iowa to go first in their contest. The rules, however, are different. The Democrats have been using an incredibly complicated system that requires lots of time & effort from every participant. The Republicans make it easier: just show up, vote their preference and go back to their warm homes.
Democracy is a work in progress. The system is frequently tweaked, while better educated citizenry with more interest in the affairs of the country can produce better politics. Politics reflect the people, especially in a democratic society. But, what we have in Iowa is not very good democratic politics.
First, the cost is enormous--not only in Iowa, but everywhere. In the year before a single actual vote is cast, candidates are deemed viable not on the basis of their qualifications, policy proposals, etc, but on their ability to have a big bank account. Second, the Iowa caucus system is exclusionary! The voting takes place in the evening and lasts a couple hours. Those who work the evening/night shift can't participate. There's no absentee balloting. Those Iowans serving in the armed forces are de facto excluded. Third, there's no one-person-one vote. Precincts are allocated delegates based on part turnout rates. Or, having 1,000 people vote for you in this pricinct may give you 1 delegate, same as 10 people voting in another! (The rules book is like a telephone directory of a big city)
It's no surpise that the turnout is only 5-10% of eligible voters of Iowa! Yes, it's this low. This year, I've heard that close to 200,000 (maybe even more) Iowans will participate. Let's see. On average, some 60,000 Dems and 90,000 Repubs turn out in January to cast a vote. That's not good, especially if you put this into the perspective of the money spent, the disproportionate impact on the race, and--not to forget--the non-representative sample of America Iowa has. It's a very rural state, 95% white. Nevada, the Carolinas, for example, can be better representative sample of the US.
I don't really care who does what on the Republican side. I've said it before, their candidates speak a different language than I, and, obviously, have the wrong priorities & policies. On the Democratic side, as I've been hinting all along, my preference is Edwards, even though I will support the eventual nominee as a far better choice than whomever the GOP puts forth. My ideal ticket would be Edwards/Obama in November. Edwards can be a good president that can bring the country together at a time when the US has no more margin of error and must immediately begin the recovery effort on January 20, 2009, a minute past noon! Obama can be a great VP for the next 8 years, and possibly the next president of the US; he's young and talented enough for this, and, by then, there would be a forgone conclusion that our country can indeed elect a non-white to the highest office.
I also believe that Edwards will be a very strong candidate in the general election, stronger that the other 2 Dems. Faux News is scared of him, as they've never aired hypothetical math-ups between him and other Reps, while they've done this with both Clinton and Obama! I'd never take anything for granted in politics, but a very strong Democrat may turn victory into another tide of electing more Dems to the US Senate. This is very important too, because part of the renewal process will be to remove some of the regressive & obstructionist senators while pushing for needed changes. We have to make Lieberman (I-CT) irrelevant. We have to have the votes to get sensible justices to the Supreme Court. This body--one of the 3 branches of our government--is extremely important when it comes to issues of privacy, human rights, civil rights, education, science v. theocracy, democracy, freedom of expression, and basically on all matters that concern life in the US. Because of GOP presidents, we got extremists and regressives on SCOTUS. This generally conservative court has, on a few cases, held back the conservative assault by a 5-4 margin.
Things can drastically deteriorate in our country if we don't get some new sensible justices on the high court soon--especially with 3 of its most liberal justices half a step from retirement. Let's not forget this important aspect when votes are cast on November 8th, 2008.... Despite disagreements on policy with Mrs. Clinton, I do think she'd make a far better president than the Bushes or any other Republican. But, if she leads the Democratic ticket in the general, Republicans and all those who for whatever reason don't like her, will be more likely to come out to vote against her. This may boost the support of other GOP candidates. Even hardcore Repubs have told me that they know the presidency will change hands in the next election because they admit Bush has been a royal screw-up. Their only hope is that Ms. Clinton runs, so there might be a close race. In other words, I want to see the strongest possible Dem going into the general, and winning not just the White House but enough popular support and with a coattail that results in bigger majorities in the two chambers of Congress.
Final Update 1/3/08
The numbers are in. Obama has won by 8 points (38%) over Edwards (30%) & Clinton (29%). All three move on to New Hampshire's primary on Jan. 8th. The rest will soon drop out. The biggest loser on either side is Romney (25%) who outspent winner Huckabee (35%) by many millions of dollars. The Republicans are still searching for identity. I expect most of the Repubs in the field to continue on for a while longer.
I think it's been an amazing night for Obama, who may win in five days too. Increased participation as a whole, and among the young and the independents helped him win big. Iowa is a white (95%) conservative state, but at least the Dems there are willing to give a black man a chance to win the nomination!
As I said in my previous post, a higher turnout wouldn't be good for Edwards, because he relied on seasoned, experienced caucus goers. But, he is still a good contender, although he must do well in NH, Nevada, and South Carolina to have a realistic chance. Clinton was hurt more in Iowa, because her inevitability is crushed. The spin that will follow may inflict more damage--if the focus is on her poor return for her investment of many million dollars in Iowa--estimated, $200 per vote. Her "firewall" is Feb. 5th--the super-duper multi state primary date--when her money (wich includes field operations) and name recognition will be a great asset.
Turnout appears to be much higher than before, but still way too low for such an important decision. There are about 1.2 million Iowans registered to vote, almost evenly split between the two parties. The Repubs almost always turned out in greater numbers as their voting procedure has been a simple matter, unlike the Dems. This year is was very unusual. The Repubs increased their numbers by 1/3, but the Dems went from 60,000 to over 235,000! That's huge.
Obviously, Obama benefited from this turnout of young and new voters. This may be his key to success--to do what others hoped, promised, but never managed to deliver: huge blocks of new voters. I'm surprised that Edwards held on to second place based on this numbers and being outspent by alot.
More numbers: According to the Entrance Poll, 57% of attendees were first time caucus goers! This is incredible. Obama won that group, by 41% to 29% Clinton and 18% Edwards. It also appears that Edwards received the majority of second-choice votes.
editor's note: I'm ending this post here, revised & updated. Of course this thread will be picked up again in a couple days...