It has begun.
A very interesting night in Iowa, and now on to New Hampshire, but first let’s review some lessons we might have just learned and what that tells us going forward.
The candidates perceived as running the most positive campaigns won -- Huckabee and Obama; the candidates perceived as running the most negative lost -- Romney and Clinton. The youngest candidates in each party also won, which shows to a large degree where the voters of this country want to go and how important change is in this election.
Money didn’t seem to matter all that much. Message and ability of candidate to connect with voters were most important. Huckabee was way outspent and won. And Clinton had so much more establishment resources and lost. In fact, the candidates widely viewed as having establishment backing and being the most political and least authentic (Romney and Clinton) lost.
So, what happens next?
The candidates who won are going to be looking for any opportunity to build on the momentum, and the candidates who lost are going to be looking for any way to stop the bleeding and slow the momentum of the winners.
And the best opportunity for both those things is the ABC debate on Saturday night – just three days before the New Hampshire primary. It is the only real place to alter the story line if you lost or build on it if you won.
Huckabee is going to need to prove fairly quickly that he can win votes outside of evangelical voters and that is going to be tough in New Hampshire. He needs to prove his support isn’t limited to one group. He needs to convey a sense of seriousness that is beyond the jovial attitude.
Romney has to win New Hampshire. He outspent everyone in Iowa and finished second. And has outspent everyone in New Hampshire. His campaign cannot survive two consecutive losses, since their original strategy was premised on winning both! Romney also needs to figure out a way to undermine Huckabee’s authenticity, which is going to be hard coming from a candidate viewed by many as a flip-flopper.
McCain has to win New Hampshire. He won it by 18 points eight years ago, and has no base to recover from if he loses it. Much of his success will be contingent on the number of independents who participate in the Republican primary, and that is questionable since many independents may opt to vote in the Democratic primary now that Obama won. He needs to continue rebuilding his independent credentials -- a good way is to point out differences with President Bush on spending.
Clinton: My expectation is that the Clinton campaign will throw the kitchen sink at Obama to try and slow him down. Clinton made a huge mistake running a campaign premised on experience in an election all about change. I would think they will try and undermine Obama on his change credentials.
Obama made history in Iowa and will likely have a ton of momentum. For at least the short term, he will be the sentimental favorite, and like the Chicago Cubs, once he starts winning, voters are going to want him to win. His goal is going to not be dragged into a mud fight with Clinton and to stay on his message of hope and healing.
Edwards has to hope that Obama and Clinton go at it toe to toe, and he can stay positive and pick up alienated votes. He needs a second place finish to keep his campaign going.
Exciting times. And good news for the country as voters are getting to decide the direction of the political winds. And even better news for all of us observers can sit back and watch this historic election.