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Iowa and New Hampshire in 2008

Wednesday, 14 December 2005 12:00 AM

Here come Iowa and New Hampshire.

It should surprise almost no one who pays attention to such things to learn that the two states that prize their status as the first in the nation every four years in the presidential sweepstakes last week beat back the most recent challenge to their reign and will dominate once again in 2008. Meeting in Washington last Sunday, a Democratic commission rejected last-minute efforts to force Iowa and New Hampshire to delay their contests, or to allow other states to move earlier, in favor of a far more modest proposal that will essentially change nothing.

Iowa still has the first caucus. New Hampshire still has the first primary. Both will happen in January 2008, just as four years ago, one week apart. The only difference is that one or two states may be able to have a caucus in the week after Iowa, and one or two in the week after New Hampshire – if any can get it together to move, and if anybody pays attention.

But for all intents and purposes, the process can be expected to play out very much like last time. The impetus for the commission – to take on the power of the two small states that dominate – failed to come to much.

"We're proposing an incremental solution that is neither radical nor trivial," said Rep. David Price, a co-chairman with Alexis Herman of the commission and a longtime veteran of these rules wars. It was 20 years ago that Chuck Manatt, a former Democratic chairman, tried to take on Iowa and New Hampshire – without success. The truth is the New Hampshire and Iowa Democrats – and Republicans – simply would ignore the party if they tried to do anything else and hold their contests anyway, and what candidate could afford to ignore them? None, so long as the media come.

Iowa and New Hampshire have never been about delegates, after all. It's all about media and momentum. If the cameras come, so will the candidates.

The calendar has implications for both Democrats and Republicans. It means that the process at the beginning tends to be very white, with less involvement by unions and minorities – no big cities, no political machines.

On social issues, Iowa is traditionally either very liberal or very conservative; on foreign policy, the same is true. That is why John McCain skipped Iowa last time, and may do so again, dangerous though that is. New Hampshire tends to be more moderate on the Democratic side, with a traditional conservative streak on the Republican side. If you're Rudy Giuliani and you're looking for a base, a state when you can score early, New Hampshire looks better than Iowa, but Michigan – the state that was, on the Democratic side, the big challenger to Iowa and New Hampshire – looks better than either of them. Sorry, Rudy. Slipped through your fingers.

That is the ultimate irony of these games. The Republicans may have more to lose than the Democrats.

Technically, of course, it's possible for the two parties in the same state to pick their delegates on different days, and occasionally they do. But most of the time, Democrats and Republicans hold their contests on the same day. So if the Michigan Democrats had moved up, as they wanted to, so would the Michigan Republicans.

What was really at stake in the attack on New Hampshire and Iowa was less the nomination of Hillary Clinton, a campaign and an idea so big that it is likely to live or die on much more than the order of states, but the prospects of any number of Republicans who may end up being far more sensitive to the calendar and how it plays out than Democrats are this time around.

Those with the most to fear this time from Iowa and New Hampshire may not be Democrats at all. The polls show McCain and Giuliani with the lead among Republicans as a whole. But Republicans as a whole don't select the nominees. Some Republicans have much more clout than others, beginning with those who live in Iowa and New Hampshire. And it may turn out that the continued dominance of those two states will have a far greater impact on the Republican contest than on the Democratic one, with the GOP front-runners having more trouble finding their base in those early states than Hillary does.

COPYRIGHT 2005 CREATORS SYNDICATE INC.

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Here come Iowa and New Hampshire. It should surprise almost no one who pays attention to such things to learn that the two states that prize their status as the first in the nation every four years in the presidential sweepstakes last week beat back the most...
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