You’ve no doubt heard the spin put on the outcome of the Iowa caucuses, but when you cut through the noise this week’s vote was a good indicator of what to expect going forward. The table is set for a most unusual presidential nomination process and North Carolina could pay a big role in it.
By the time our Primary Elections are held, 29 other states will have had votes for one or both parties, notably the big states of Texas, Georgia, Virginia and Massachusetts on March 1st. In addition to North Carolina, four of the 10 most populous states, including Florida, Ohio and Illinois, vote on March 15th.
Our legislature set this date, hoping North Carolina might once-again have a real voice in the nomination outcome, but we have serious doubts this will be the case. If Florida is hotly contested we might not experience a flood of candidate appearances or strong advertising, due largely to a decision the state Republican Party made to award convention delegates proportionally instead of employing a winner-take-all system. Major candidates might decide to skip our state in favor of ones where the potential payoff is larger.
If you want to know why North Carolina politicos are paying so much attention to primaries just ask former Senator Elizabeth Dole and candidate Pat McCrory, both defeated by the 2008 coattails of Barack Obama. North Carolina candidates recognize that the person at the top of their respective party ballot can have a huge effect of their own chances, especially in the important offices of Governor, Attorney General and State Treasurer.
While the official Iowa winners were Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton, the real winners were Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders. Front-runners in the polls didn’t fare as well as projected. Donald Trump was the big loser. The Republican beauty pageant is essentially reduced to three candidates, with the possible addition of a fourth emerging from New Hampshire or South Carolina who could hang on deep into the selection process.
GOP party leaders breathed a sigh of relief that Rubio demonstrated himself a viable contender, thinking he may be the consensus candidate who can actually win in November. Democrats are still uneasy. Clinton squeaked out a victory but obviously has a lot of baggage. Sanders attracted younger voters and exit polls reported he was the most trustworthy Democrat. He no doubt benefitted from an anti-Hillary vote.
Iowa confirmed several things. Iowa voters proved polls are not infallible. We saw the anger and disillusionment of the electorate, especially among the white middle-class and younger voters. But the candidates who did well were those with strong grass-roots organizations. They always trump flashy candidates grabbing media attention. Both Rubio and Sanders will now get a huge boost in momentum and a strong flow of dollars needed to wage the fights ahead.
Our best advice is to discount the polls, mute the back and forth harangues and recognize that debates and candidate forums are little more than stage shows where candidates repeat highly rehearsed talking points. Pay close attention to what the candidates say and even more to what they aren’t saying. Ask yourself which candidates stand the best chance of winning, because in the election game if you don’t win, you don’t play in political outcomes.
Tom Campbell is the Executive Producer and Moderator of N.C. Spin.