Tuesday, October 01, 2013

An Iowa Opportunity for Warren?

An epic flamewar was underway last week between, among others, desmoinesdem of Bleeding Heartland and myself. Her point of view, that Hillary Clinton doesn't "need" Iowa, is largely summarized here. To paraphrase: 1) Hillary is a more prohibitive front runner than any in history, 2) if she runs no other serious person gets in, and therefore 3) Clinton can eschew traditional Iowa retail politics because we're not special.

1) is most likely true, though it was also true circa 2005. It's probably MORE true now than it was in 2005.

But there is still considerable resistance to the Restoration Of The House Of Clinton in the Democratic ranks, and in those circles the same name comes up repeatedly: Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Granted, Warren turned down an Iowa invite, and denies interest in the presidency, but such denials are rituals of the game. They only beg you to run for president once. Barack Obama heard that begging in 2005 and 2006.

Which leads us to 2). There are two big picture scenarios for the 2016 Democratic race. Hillary doesn't run = free for all between Joe Biden (who loves Iowa enough to come here this month and to release his Obamacare editorial via the Des Moines Register) and an army of miscellaneous governors. This wasn't very likely and we didn't expect it.

The MUCH more likely scenario is Clinton does run. In that case I see a race like 2000 where Al Gore was the insider choice and the outsiders clung to whatever else they had.

Circa 1997 the Anyone But Gore list was Paul Wellstone and a still significant Jesse Jackson, both of whom made a couple Iowa stops. The guy who did run, Bill Bradley, was off the B- or C+ list - out of office, flirted with an independent 1996 run, almost lost his 1990 re-elect.

I liked Bradley, a lot, but HE wasn't important. The race was Gore vs. Not Gore, and Not Gore was his role. Bradley lost 2-1 in Iowa, almost won New Hampshire which everyone forgets. Then, in the calendar quirk of the year, they was a long layoff till Super Tuesday when Bradley washed out.

There was a BIG Anyone But Hillary faction in the Democratic Party circa 2006. Some argue that's faded after her stint at State. But the stakes are so high that someone is likely to step up and play the Bradley role, and maybe more successfully.

There was and is a powerful gender and age dynamic surrounding Hillary Clinton. The idea of a woman president is huge to women of the first feminist generation, and it also seems like it's important to them that the woman be FROM that generation. (I see a similar female age dynamic in the 1st CD race bwteen Vernon and Kajtazovic supporters).

Elizabeth Warren is uniquely suited to this challenge. Despite being a relative newcomer to the national stage, she's less than two years younger than Clinton. So two women, about the same age, now let's talk issues.
Privately, some Democratic donors from the financial industry seem unnerved by Ms. Warren’s rise, underscoring the tension between the party’s liberal and centrist wings. 

“People on Wall Street perceive her to be hostile to their industry, and so there was pretty widespread terror when she got on the Banking Committee,” said Steven Rattner, a New York financier and pillar of Mrs. Clinton’s fund-raising network. 

The ascendant power of Ms. Warren and her fellow populists is best captured by their torpedoing this month of Lawrence H. Summers, Mr. Clinton’s treasury secretary, who was blocked before President Obama could even nominate him to lead the Federal Reserve.
Now let's look at 3). Hillary doesn't "owe" Iowa anything.

Bill Clinton never really ran an Iowa caucus campaign, thanks to Tom Harkin's 1992 run, and Hillary did so only half-heartedly in 2007. In the post-election tell-all Game Change, Team Clinton had a particular vitriol for the Iowa caucuses:
    If Hillary was going to be competitive in Iowa, she would need to go all out. The problem was, she hated it there….

    She found the Iowans diffident and presumptuous; she felt they were making her grovel. Hillary detested pleading for anything, from money to endorsements, and in Iowa it was no different. She resisted calling the local politicos whose support she needed.

    One time, she spent forty-five minutes on the phone wooing an activist, only to be told at the call’s end that the woman was still deciding between her and another candidate. Hillary hung up in a huff. “I can’t believe this!” she said. “How many times am I going to have to meet these same people?”
The wounds haven't healed; Hillary Clinton has not been back to Iowa since Caucus Night 2008. And just last weekend Bill Clinton hinted at the discredited charge that Team Obama brought in ringers on caucus night:
“I still think we have way too many caucuses. They’re not democratic. And unlike primaries, they have no legal enforcement. You can break the rules, nobody’s going to say anything. I think there are way too many of them.”
That charge was disproven post-caucus when only tiny handfuls of voter cards were returned to sender, usually for trivial mistakes like missing apartment numbers.

I'm just one caucus goer, in one little state. But I guess before I caucus, I'd like to ask: Madame Secretary, do you still hate my state?

I, of course, believe Iowa IS special. Our 40 plus years of the serious caucus era have made us very good at ferreting out the presidents from the pretenders if we're given a chance. It seems to me that Clinton, who made a half-hearted Iowa effort in 2007, still has a chip on her shoulder and doesn't really want to give us that chance.

My friend David Redlawsk postulated the question, at book length, "Why Iowa?" His executive summary: because until people agree on something else, it's Iowa. We're still the first REAL event. If anything, the modern eternal news cycle of Twitter-era journalism amplifies that above and beyond even the levels we saw in the bygone network TV Boys On The Bus era, when Gary Hart shot from a barely second place in Iowa, 35 points behind Mondale, to a New Hampshire win eight days later.

This weekend's Register Poll is worded in such a bizarre way that it really doesn't tell us much, but it does hint at an opening for someone "new." I've got an open mind... but I'm more open to someone who comes here to ask for my vote.

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