by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
January 11, 2008
WHO'S WINNING THE PRIMARIES? THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Yes, it's only Iowa and New Hampshire.
Yes, it's only the first results of a frenzied and compressed process that may decide the presidential nominees before Valentine's Day.
But what happened in the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3 and the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 8 offers much hope to Democrats.
Start with the turnout. In 2000, the last time both parties had caucuses in Iowa, Republicans saw 87,000 voters turn out, while Democrats had only 59,000 show up. In 2004, 125,000 Democrats showed up for the caucuses.
This year, the Republicans attracted about 115,000 voters - a 30 percent increase over 2000 - while the Democrats had more than 236,000 voters, nearly double the 2004 turnout. That's one sign of the energy being generated by the Democrats.
In New Hampshire, more than 525,000 voters turned out for this year's primary, a record for that state. Independents have become the key to winning in New Hampshire, and in this state, you can choose what party's primary you want to participate in on the day of the election. According to exit polling, about 60 percent chose Democratic ballots.
Another hopeful sign is that more younger voters have gotten involved in the process. In the Iowa Democratic caucus, it's estimated that more than 46,000 voters between 17 and 29 participated, and that 57 percent of that group threw their support behind Barack Obama.
In New Hampshire, Obama did not benefit from the surge in younger voters, simply because there weren't as many. Still, as in Iowa, more younger voters went to the polls this year in New Hampshire and they cast their ballots for Democrats.
What happened in Iowa and New Hampshire apparently is a continuation of a trend started in 2004, when that age group backed John Kerry over President George W. Bush by a 54-45 percent margin. It continued in 2006, when they backed Democratic candidates for Congress by a 60-38 percent margin.
If you look at the total turnout in Iowa, about 356,000, and look at the percentage of the total vote each candidate drew, the trend is even more startling. Obama got 24.5 percent of the total vote, followed by John Edwards at 20.5 percent and Hillary Clinton 19.8 percent. The top GOP finisher, Mike Huckabee, only managed 11.4 percent of the total vote.
The raw numbers told a similar tale in New Hampshire. Clinton, Obama and Edwards picked up more than 235,000 votes between them, while John McCain, Mitt Romney and Huckabee managed only about 165,000 combined votes.
So, after two contests, a couple of patterns have emerged.
Clinton, who always had the money and the resources but doesn't inspire the passion that Obama generates, is certainly not done. Her victory in New Hampshire surprised everyone, include many of her staffers, but she has had the lead the polls in New Hampshire for more than a year. The Iowa bounce for Obama may have been slightly exaggerated.
The comparisons of Obama to Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 campaign are not an exaggeration. When he speaks, you can't help but listen. As Steven Rosenfeld recently wrote for AlterNet, Obama's secret has been the use of three simple words - "Yes, we can." While the other candidates say "I will do this" or "I will do that," Obama rarely uses the "I" pronoun and emphasizes "we" and "you" when he speaks. He makes an effort to be inclusive and delivers a message that if people come together, great things can happen. By appealing to hope, rather than fear, Obama seems to have opened up a new path for the Democrats.
Clinton can talk about her experience and her mastery of policy, but in the end, charisma and making voters feel good wins the day.
"Ironically, while the Republican candidates have been falling over themselves to compare themselves to Ronald Reagan, the one candidate who seems to be making Americans feel good about themselves with an assured, easy manner and clear values - as Reagan did - is a Democrat in the race, Obama," wrote Rosenfield.
That's another reason for optimism for Democrats. Listen to the Republican candidates, and you do not hear hope or optimism. You hear fear and divisiveness. There is no candidate in the GOP that has the same appeal of Obama, Clinton or Edwards.
I've enjoyed watching the Republican Party's nervous breakdown. The business wing of the GOP thinks Huckabee is a dangerous liberal. The evangelical wing thinks Romney belongs to a religious cult and Giuliani is immoral. McCain has become the GOP establishment's choice by default, but Huckabee, Romney and Giuliani all think they have a chance.
The difference is that while most Democrats would be happy to see either Obama, Clinton or Edwards in the White House, there is no single candidate that a majority of Republicans will rally behind. That is a big reason why the turnout has been so big in the Democratic contests in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Few are particularly happy that Iowa and New Hampshire are accorded so much importance in the presidential primary process. Because of the way the parties set up the process, it forces too many candidates to place their hope in generating early momentum in these two states. With the Nevada caucus on on Jan. 19, and primaries later this month in Michigan, South Carolina (where Republicans vote Jan. 16 and Democrats vote Jan. 24), and Florida (Jan. 29) and the big "Super Tuesday" vote on Feb. 5, when 22 states have primaries, momentum is important. After Iowa and New Hampshire, however, we now have a race, instead of a coronation.
For political junkies, these next few weeks will be a joy to watch. For the rest of America, all we can say is, you're missing a great game.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.