Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Does Iowa matter?

You decide:

1972 Democratic caucus winner: Uncommitted. Nominee: George McGovern, who finished third. McGovern lost to Richard Nixon (who ran in Iowa unopposed) by an electoral vote count of 520-17.

1976 Democratic caucus winner: Uncommitted. Nominee: Jimmy Carter, who finished second. Carter beat Gerald Ford, 297-240.

1980 Democratic caucus winner: Carter won 59% of the votes, Ted Kennedy, mounting a vigorous challenge to the incumbent, won 31%. On the Republican side: George H.W. Bush beat Ronald Reagan, 32% to 29.5%. Reagan beat Carter in the general election, 489-49.

1984 Democratic caucus winner: Walter Mondale, Carter's vice-president, trounced all six contenders, receiving 49% of the votes. Reagan, the incumbent, didn't campaign there and no one voted. Reagan beat Mondale, 525-13.

1988 Democratic caucus winner: Richard Gephardt. Michael Dukakis, who finished third, won the Democratic nomination. Bob Dole won the Republican nomination with 37% of the votes, with televangelist Pat Robertson (now backing Rudy Giuliani) taking second with 25%, while the eventual Republican nominee, George Bush, won 19%. Bush defeated Dukakis, 426-111.

1992 Democratic caucus winner: Tom Harkin, with 76% of the ballots. Bill Clinton received 3%, then finished second in New Hampshire. He won the Democratic nomination. Bush, the incumbent president, ran unopposed. Clinton won the election, 370-178.

1996 Republican caucus winner: Bob Dole, with 26% of the vote, barely defeated right-wing TV commentator Pat Buchanan, who pulled down 23% of the vote. Clinton ran unopposed, and then defeated Dole, 379-159.

2000 Democratic caucus winner: Al Gore crushed Bill Bradley, 63%-35%. Republican caucus winner: George W. Bush (41%), who defeated Steve Forbes (30%) and Alan Keyes (14%). Bush won the general election after the U.S. Supreme Court intervened on his behalf, 271-266.

2004 Democratic caucus winner: John Kerry, with 38% of the ballots, beat John Edwards, his eventual running mate, who pulled down 32%. Kerry lost to Bush, who ran unopposed, 286-252.

All right, then! Now that we have all these important numbers, what do they mean? Only three of the last six Democrats to win Iowa as challengers have won the Democratic nomination. Two times, Iowa Democrats found their party's nominees so unappealing that they gave more votes to "Uncommitted" than an actual person. No Iowa caucus winner (non-incumbent) won the general presidential election. Only two of the last four Republicans to run as challengers won their party's nomination. Only one, George W. Bush, won the presidency.

The Democratic and Republican candidates in the Iowa caucuses will spend somewhere between $24 to $30 million to get the endorsement of one of the most demographically unrepresentative states in the country. In return, those candidates have a not-so-good chance of becoming the next president of the United States. Buy high, sell low . . . not exactly a philosophy that will get anyone rich anytime soon.

Wake me when it's over.

UPDATE: How unrepresentative is Iowa of the United States? Here are just a few facts for starters:

White persons not Hispanic: Iowa -- 91%; U.S. -- 66.4%.
African-Americans: Iowa -- 2.5%; U.S. -- 12.8%.
Latino: Iowa -- 3.8%; U.S. -- 14.8%.
Asian: Iowa -- 1.6%; U.S. -- 4.4%.
Persons below poverty level: Iowa -- 10.5%; U.S. -- 12.7%

Population: Iowa -- 2,982,085; U.S. -- 299,398,484. Iowa's population is less than 1% of the U.S. population.

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