NH Watches Iowa

Jan 3, 2012

Tonight, all eyes are on Iowa.  Tomorrow, they will shift to New Hampshire.  The presidential candidates never fail to remind Granite State voters of the unique role they play.  Much is made of Yankee independent thinking, but it would be a mistake to overlook how the outcome in Iowa can shape the results in New Hampshire.

Some voters relish the task of picking the next potential president.  Matt McCormack isn’t one of them.

“I actually have not paid much attention to this point.”

We spoke to McCormack right before Christmas.  His strategy is nothing if not pragmatic.  In his division of labor, it’s Iowa’s job to lighten his load.

“I kind of let them wean out the field a little bit before I start paying attention because people drop out of it and other people figure it out a little bit more before it gets to us in New Hampshire.”

That view is in sharp contrast to how candidate Jon Huntsman sees it.  The former Utah governor has sidestepped Iowa and staked everything on doing well here.  Asked at a campaign stop today if he will be watching Iowa, Huntsman was dismissive.

“We’ll obviously look at the results and we’ll remember them for about seven hours and then everyone will be focused on New Hampshire.”

They might be focused on New Hampshire, but if historic trends are any guide, they will be assessing Iowa to glean one important piece of information.

“After Iowa, we have a very key marker of electability.”

Dante Scala is a political scientist at the University of New Hampshire.  Scala says a good slug of voters are like Matt McCormack.  For them, who wins Iowa is less important than who is left standing or at least emerges relatively undamaged.

In Scala’s view, Huntsman has a great deal riding on Iowa because any hopes for victory hinge on Mitt Romney getting a drubbing in the Hawkeye State.

“And lots of doubts are raised about the viability of Romney as the nominee of the party. And so, moderate conservative voters might give Huntsman a look as an alternative to Mitt Romney.”

Tonight’s caucuses could affect a very different part of the electorate.  The results could fuse the most socially conservative citizens into a more unified voting block.  Over the past months, they’ve been wooed by a number of candidates.  Now, Scala says,  Iowa conservatives might deliver a useful verdict for their New Hampshire counterparts. 

“They have had slim pickings all year, looking for someone to the right of Mitt Romney who could be their champion.  And Perry’s not coming here.  Bachmann’s not coming here.  Gingrich is looking like someone who doesn’t have legs.  Who’s left? Rick Santorum.”

A huge piece of the puzzle has to do with expectations.  If the polls mean anything, Mitt Romney and Texas congressman Ron Paul ought to do well tonight.  If they don’t , then Iowa will have thrown all the cards up in the air.  Rather than winnowing the field, it will leave it more open than ever.