Robert G. Kaiser
Washington Post Associate Editor
Thursday, January 3, 2008 10:00 PM
Washington Post associate editor Robert G. Kaiser was online Thursday, Jan. 3 at 10 p.m. ET to break down the returns from the Iowa caucuses as they're announced and examine what they mean for the candidates in the 2008 presidential primaries.
The transcript follows.
Robert G. Kaiser: Welcome to a caucus-night conversation about the Iowa results. We're getting real numbers now and hope to be able to evaluate results in some meaningful way in the next hour. We'll stay with it until the outcome is clear or I run out of ethanol. Your comments and questions are, as always, the juice that can make this interesting, so please send them in.
The early results are fascinating. They actually deserve the label "historic." I think we have seen two big things here tonight: The Reagan coalition is indeed fracturing, and the Republican Party is now certifiably in the midst of an identity crisis. This does not mean there is no hope for the Republican candidate next November, but it does mean that the Republican Party we have been living with since 1980 is on its way to the dust bin of history, to coin a phrase.
Second, of course, is the apparent repudiation in Iowa of the Clinton legacy and the prospect of its renewal. Sen. Clinton's biggest hope, I have always thought, was that she would be seen as truly inevitable -- the only candidate with an obvious claim on the White House, the one most likely to win in November. Does she look like that tonight? No.
On to your questions and comments...
thebobbob : The MSM and the Washington pundits seem to be missing a major element in this election. If the Power Players and the Democratic Machine all are supporting Hillary, why can Obama raise as much money as Hillary? Who are all these people giving Obama money? Follow the money! There's a change in the weather.
Robert G. Kaiser: There is indeed a change in the weather. A big part of the change is the Internet, obviously. Clinton raised one kind of money, Obama another. The second kind, small contributions from the 'Net, looks as good or better than the first.
Queens, N.Y.: Will we know how much support the "marginal" candidates received before the "viability" stage of the Iowa caucuses? For example, will we know how many Kucinich supporters here were before they shifted over to other candidates (especially Obama)?
Robert G. Kaiser: I'm embarrassed to say I don't know. I will try to find out. The precinct caucuses report final results; not sure there is a mechanism to report preliminary ones.
Anonymous: What does Romney do now? Does he hit either Huckabee or McCain, or does he try to present a positive message about what he would do from here on out?
Robert G. Kaiser: Good question. You have to feel some sympathy for the guy, who spent a pile of money and a year of his life in Iowa. This is truly a humiliating result for him. And negative ads obviously didn't work in Iowa, so your prescription might not be effective this year.
Tampa, Fla.: Do you think Obama would consider Hillary as Vice President? Would she want it?
Robert G. Kaiser: I don't think he'd consider her -- but it's much too early to be talking about this subject.
Hillary as vice president? Sounds unlikely.
Houston: What did the (Dem) first votes look like in percentages before they added the people who had to pick a second choice?
Robert G. Kaiser: We have an "entrance poll" of Democrats, a poll of 2,136 people chosen at random as they entered caucuses all over the state. Here are the numbers from that survey:
We can see from the top three that Clinton and Edwards got more than that percentage of votes. That suggests that when "viability" kicked in, votes for the others went to them more than to Obama. But of course the poll wasn't necessarily right.
Auckland, New Zealand: How was overall turn-out, please? Notably increased interest and participation, marginal increase, or hardly anything to write about?
Robert G. Kaiser: Huge Democratic turnout today, much bigger than ever before.
Falls Church, Va.: What significance does the Republican front-runners' poor showing in Iowa have? Does the fact that Giuliani and Ron Paul garnered about the same number votes mean Giuliani's dead in the water? If Romney loses to McCain in New Hampshire after his embarrassing defeat to Huckabee in Iowa, is he dead in the water?
Robert G. Kaiser: Good questions. I heard today about a very smart Republican who has been supporting McCain all year who says the reason his man will win is not because he is doing to do so well, but because his rivals are all going to do badly, one at a time. Romney did badly tonight; Giuliani could do badly in New Hampshire (and did poorly in Iowa); you can spin it out. Might this Republican have it just right?
Anonymous: Coming in second is a "win" for Edwards in Iowa. What do you think it means for him in New Hampshire?
Robert G. Kaiser: It seems to me that Edwards would have been in a much better position if he had won tonight. Problem is, he doesn't have a large fraction of the money available to Obama and Clinton. Boston television, important in New Hampshire, is expensive. He hasn't been using it. I think he needs a stumble by Obama or Clinton to get to second in New Hampshire now. But I am not a seer.
Reston, Va.: Thanks for the chat! Can you explain something to me? On MSNBC I see Huckabee won with about 25,000 votes and Obama won with about 750 votes. Are there really that few Dems in Iowa, or is the process different with the two parties? Thanks!
Robert G. Kaiser: We aren't talking votes in this caucus, we are talking delegates. I don't know what numbers CNN is showing, but many, many more Iowans cast ballots for Obama tonight than for Huckabee. Democratic turnout was way, way up; Republican turnout was flat.
Carrboro, N.C.: With more than 95 percent of the nomination process ahead of us, I just watched David Gergen on CNN say that John Edwards, the candidate who came in second in the Iowa caucus, "has no where to go from here" in a race in which the three top candidates are within 7 percent of each other, and in which Edwards has over $13 million in cash on hand.
Have we reached complete insanity on the media crafting a narrative around the expectations game rather than results? As someone who has to wait until May to vote, I feel like my voice in the Democratic process is being stolen by bloviating talking heads who are saying "this person can't win" or "that person can't win" and are then making it so -- rather than them reporting that the Democratic Party has three candidates who significant numbers of people found compelling, and that further amounts of voting by other citizens actually will pick one of them to go forward. Instead, it seems the media is ready to pick for us. Agree? Disagree? I'd love to hear your take.
Robert G. Kaiser: This is a thoughtful question and comment, and I am sympathetic to it. Here's my answer:
Edwards is running a distant third in New Hampshire, according to the latest polls. If this is where he finishes next Tuesday, the pundits will tend to line up with a Gergen-like analysis, for a simple reason: If Edwards, who was on the national ticket four years ago, can't do better than second or third in Iowa and third by a long distance in New Hampshire, why should anyone expect Democrats elsewhere to turn to him then?
This could be unfair of course. If he came in a close third in a New Hampshire race also close between Obama and Clinton, this could look quite different. But in a year like this, I think you have to expect winners' momentum to build. If Obama won New Hampshire now, what would stop him?
Derry, N.H.: Would you agree that we here in New Hampshire have the ability on Tuesday effectively to end the Romney and Edwards campaigns?
Robert G. Kaiser: Well, only Romney and Edwards literally have that power now. But you can make it a lot harder for both of them.
Boulder, Colo.: In the opening portion of the chat you suggested that the Republican primary results represented the crumbling of the Reagan coalition. Could you please explain why you think this?
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for the prod. My thinking is this: Reagan brought together evangelicals, old-fashioned country-club Republicans, Southern middle-class voters and the group that became known as "Reagan Democrats." Huckabee wins Iowa without bringing together any broad coalition at all; he got evangelicals and a few others, it looks like. Other Republicans fractured in many directions.
I agree with the now-common commentary that there is no heir to Reagan now, or even to President Bush. Fred Thompson was, for ten minutes, the guy tapped to play that role. He did very poorly in Iowa tonight -- 14 percent.
I also confess to thinking for a couple of years now that the Republican coalition was in danger of fracturing. I may be looking tonight for evidence to support my own theory. But I don't think so. I think it's really happening.
Bronx, N.Y.: Why do you think Biden has done so awfully? Everything I read before the caucus said that he had at least some support. Also, do you think there actually was a deal between Obama and Biden, as reported in today's Post? Thanks.
washingtonpost.com: The Trail: A Biden-Obama Deal? (washingtonpost.com, Jan. 3)
Robert G. Kaiser: No evidence available to me yet about whether this deal came to fruition. But I see in our "entrance poll," which is looking pretty good, that of the 2,100 Democrats surveyed on their way in to the caucuses tonight, Biden got just five percent.
Why has he done badly? I can't answer that. Ask your cousin in Iowa.
Washington: Okay, so perhaps I'm a bit out of it ... what happened to Tancredo? I don't see his name anywhere. Did he drop out and I didn't notice? (I have been trying to avoid too much focus on this so I don't burn out by November.)
washingtonpost.com: The Trail: Tancredo Leaves Race, Endorses Romney (washingtonpost.com, Dec. 20)
Robert G. Kaiser: Yup, you're out of it. Here's a link to the story. He dropped out weeks ago.
San Jose, Calif.: Mr. Kaiser, thanks for the chat. I am a bit naive to the how Democrats are "counting votes." On washingtonpost.com, I am seeing that there have been 80,000-plus votes cast for the Republican candidates, but only 2,000-plus for the Democratic candidates. You have explained that there are many more Democratic voters than Republican. So to piggyback on an earlier question, can you explain the math? Thanks!
Robert G. Kaiser: As I said earlier, the numbers you see are delegates, not voters. Numbers of voters won't be available for a while.
New York: Seems like the GOP "party elders" have two things to worry about -- they no longer can plan to run against Clinton, and they have to figure out a way to stop Huckabee, who's not exactly running according to the playbook.
Robert G. Kaiser: Correct on both counts -- I think.
Scranton, Pa.: I just heard Tim Russert on MSNBC discussing the importance of the young vote in this election, especially for Obama's 7 percent lead. Did Obama really have that level of support from young voters? Do you believe the young vote will be prominent in the general election?
Robert G. Kaiser: The "entrance poll" says 57 percent of 18-29 year-olds supported Obama tonight, and that they represented almost one fourth of the caucus attendees. Both are striking figures. Clinton got 11 percent of the young; Edwards 13 percent. If that is a harbinger, then young people can have a huge impact in November.
Caucus Survivor in Iowa: I was at the Democratic caucus tonight, and I noticed that when it came time for supporters of non-viable candidates to choose a new home, a majority of them in my precinct went for Edwards. This pushed him from a solid third place to a decent second behind Obama. Any idea why Edwards might be the second choice for so many Biden and Richardson supporters? I'd add Dodd supporters, but we only had three, and I think they evaporated...
Robert G. Kaiser: Great to hear from you, thanks. I couldn't guess why this happened, but maybe you could help: Were these people with whom Edwards' quite angry populist message resonated? Might it be fair to conclude that of the Democrats in Iowa who chose not to support either of the front-runners, Obama and Clinton, that message was meaningful?
Wyncote, Pa.: Are you people serious? This means Hillary and Romney are through? Re-read this in a month. There are more people in South Philadelphia than voted tonight. Iowa Democrats are more liberal, and this is her weakest state. I think the race is long from over, and making predictions about any candidate being damaged is a little silly...
Robert G. Kaiser: I'll promise to re-read in a month if you do.
Warrenton, Va.: So you're saying that evangelicals and a few others were enough to win the caucus? Surely there will be other Republican subgroups emerging as strong supporters of Huckabee. How else does he emerge as the winner tonight?
Robert G. Kaiser: According to the "entrance poll," 60 percent of the Republicans voting tonight described themselves as evangelical Christians. Of them, according to the poll, half voted for Huckabee. Half of 60 percent is 30 percent. Huckabee got 34 percent of the actual vote. So yes, evangelical Christians provided nearly all of his votes.
Alpharetta, Ga.: There was a lot of fuss about the Des Moines Register poll, but it projected pretty accurately
washingtonpost.com: The Trail: About That Independent Turnout... (washingtonpost.com, Jan. 3)
Robert G. Kaiser: Good point. Also, that poll foresaw a big turnout of independents, and according to the entrance poll, 20 percent of the voters who came to Dem caucuses described themselves as independents. Interesting.
Washington: Robert, while I get why this is a stinging rebuke for Romney given that it wrecks his campaign strategy, how much effect will Iowa really have? Is it possible the MSM makes the caucus into something that is much bigger than it really is? It isn't as though we ever had a President Pat Robertson.
Robert G. Kaiser: Fair point. I think the difference is that Romney's national strategy was built around winning Iowa. Unless he can score a thumping victory in New Hampshire next week, I see trouble ahead.
TKPK: It must be fun to be reporting and commenting on surprising events. I wasn't that worked up about the caucuses, but these results (on both sides) are rather exciting. Might this evening invigorate the electorate as a whole?
Robert G. Kaiser: Very possible, don't you think? I loved the comment of the first or second questioner tonight: the weather is changing. This is not your father's United States. We are entering an era of change.
Fairfax, Va.: Could you elaborate just a bit on why you think Thompson's 14 percent should be considered a "poor showing"? Given all of the negative press he recently has had about his lack of organization and staff turnover, when I turned on MSNBC and saw that he had finished third I thought -- in light of the above obstacles -- that a third-place showing was actually quite good. Agree? Disagree?
Robert G. Kaiser: Disagree. Thompson has to show that people actually want him to be president. There is no evidence of that anywhere that I am aware of. He is doing poorly in national polls, in New Hampshire polls and elsewhere.
Robert G. Kaiser: Correction: Egad, I have been misspelling Huckabee throughout this discussion. What an embarrassing mistake! I thank my producer/editor, Chris Hopkins, for pointing this out. I get two demerits. At least.
[Ed.: This was fixed in the transcript.]
Sun Prairie, Wis.: Mr. Kaiser, good evening. Do you think Sen. Obama's 37 percent represents a "ringing affirmation of his message of change" as the purple prose of The Post reporter writing your paper's lead put it? Or did he just spend a lot of money and time in a state with more liberal Democrats than most, and came through with a narrow win?
washingtonpost.com: In Iowa, Obama Wins, Clinton Concedes (Post, Jan. 3)
Robert G. Kaiser: Your interpretation is as valid as mine, or as Chris Cillizza's, who I presume is the writer you are referring to. Yes, Iowa Dems are liberal, but as noted above, Obama seems to have gotten a lot of independents to turn out to vote for him. And as I've said already, my view is that Clinton had, as the longtime favorite, by far the most to lose tonight.
What is Hillary's theme now? I am the most electable? How well would that work?
Caucus Survivor again: I don't think Edwards' angry populism did much; it struck a lot of Iowans I know as a calculated pose rather than honest belief. Some of the secondary Edwards support was clearly anti-Hillary sentiment. And I know of several people who say they agree with Obama but wouldn't vote for him because he's "not electable." My guess? Race is still a factor with the older crowd, and they're the ones who moved to Edwards when their candidates weren't viable. Not because they're racists, but because they suspect other parts of America are. Any other takes on it would be welcome.
Robert G. Kaiser: Thank you again. Very thoughtful and persuasive comment.
Virginia: Here's a question, relating to the question above about the impact of pundits -- do you think we'll ever see a one-day national primary?
Robert G. Kaiser: Geez, I hope not. That would be bad for the news business!
Seriously, I also think it would be bad for the country. IT would enormously favor known, established candidates. I hate what we have now, but that would be worse.
Years ago David Broder proposed a series of regional primaries starting in late winter or early spring, lasting into the summer, with two weeks ( I think) between each round. That would be good.
Anonymous: Why are so many pundits dismissive of Huckabee's chances in a general? Assuming he wins the nomination (big if), he's going to get money. He can neutralize issues like health care with his support of SCHIP. He's got a compelling story because of his background and weight loss. He's affable and funny. He's shown a willingness to have a moderate foreign policy and can still bring the evangelicals out better than likely any GOP candidate. The FairTax may be ridiculous, but I bet people who aren't tuned into the campaign will like the idea because who's opposed to a "fair tax"? Okay, the AIDS thing is weird, I'll admit that.
Robert G. Kaiser: Are we going to elect a president who dismisses Darwin? Are we going to elect a Baptist minister? I doubt it. I think the "new weather" overhead is bad for a Huckabee candidacy myself.
I have been wrong--really wrong!--before.
Philadelphia: Robert, is there a chance you may be getting a little carried away here? I half expect you to break into a chorus of "The Times, They Are a-Changin'"
Robert G. Kaiser: Yes there is a chance. But keep watching. I think it really is happening.
Gainesville, Va.: Robert, on the crumbling Reagan coalition, are you suggesting, like David Brooks, that Republicans need to move back into a more George Bush the First kind of moderation to win?
Robert G. Kaiser: I don't know. I liked that Brooks column, but it was short on prescriptions. I think H.W. Bush was a really ineffective politician, which is why he joined Jimmy Carter as one of only two presidents in a long time who got beaten after one term.
I do think the Republicans need a lot of new: New people, new ideas, and new ways to talk about the country's problems. And as I have suggested in chats a year or two ago, George W. Bush is going to be a heavy weight for Republicans to carry for a long time.
Halifax, Canada: Bill Clinton got less than 3 percent of the vote in the Iowa Caucus in 1992, and came back to win the nomination and the presidency. Do you think Hillary, who did much better in Iowa, can come back from a (still hypothetical) third-place showing there? Will it be harder for her than for Bill?
Robert G. Kaiser: Much harder for her. She is not the fresh face that her husband was 16 years ago. She was the Inevitable Candidate, the heavy favorite for months, and she got whupped tonight. Bill Clinton was a rising upstart; tonight she looks like a declining "favorite."
That's not the last word, to be sure. New Hampshire is, as David Broder points out in the column I hope we can link to here, much more important. My own hunch is that Obama gets a big bounce out of tonight in New Hampshire. My hunches have a -- well, a mixed record. If she comes back strong and can whup Obama on Tuesday, the race will go on and will be even more exciting.
washingtonpost.com: Wait for New Hampshire (Post, Jan. 3)
Anonymous: Obviously Huckabee got most of his support from evangelicals -- but when it comes down to it, will the business community, national security conservatives and fiscal conservatives bolt to the Democratic Party, or suck it up and vote Huckabee?
Robert G. Kaiser: Tonight I would expect many of those groups to vote Democratic or stay home if Huckabee were the candidate. But it is early days, really early days.
Washington: Bush isn't exactly a big believer in Darwin, and he's served two terms!
Robert G. Kaiser: But he carefully never dismissed evolution the way Huckabee has.
Anonymous: But a plurality of Americans dismiss Darwin! Our country is like at the bottom of developed countries on the percentage of people who believe in evolution.
Robert G. Kaiser: Yes, I've seen those polls. But evolution is not a voting issue, as they pollsters say, for a lot of them. And many of the mainstream Eastern and Midwestern Republicans that any GOP candidate has to have to win might be alienated by a Baptist minister from Arkansas as the GOP standard-bearer.
Washington: I can't believe the idea that Democrats would not vote for Obama because they think other people are racists. Shouldn't they push all the harder for him if that's what they believe about America?
Robert G. Kaiser: I'm curious to see whether this issue comes out into the open. My colleague Gene Robinson made an interesting point on the Chris Matthews panel tonight: in his home state of South Carolina, he said, many black voters have decided to vote for Clinton because they can't believe white voters are ready to support Obama. But, Gene said earlier tonight, if Obama were to win Iowa, they'd be much more prepared to support Obama in their primary next month, because they'd see that white Iowans had indeed supported him. I have no way of knowing if this is true, but I have a lot of confidence in Gene as a reporter.
Jacksonville, Fla.: Bob, Bill Clinton only got 3 percent in Iowa in 1992 because no one contested Iowa, as Sen. Harkin (D-Iowa) was running that year.
Robert G. Kaiser: Good point.
Washington: What AIDS thing from Huckabee? I missed that one.
washingtonpost.com: AIDS Comments Alarm Ryan White's Mother (AP, Dec. 11)
Robert G. Kaiser: Here it is.
Portland, Ore.: Isn't Huckabee's win tonight also good news for Sept. 11 Rudy? His whole strategy seems to be hoping for the field to fracture in the first few states and then win Florida and Feb. 5.
Robert G. Kaiser: My hunch is that it's better news for McCain.
Washington: Does the difference in turn out between Republicans and Democrats signal anything for the general, or is it just too early to say anything?
Robert G. Kaiser: Andy Kohut, one of America's best pollsters, who polls for the Pew Center on People and the Press, published a long and detailed study last year showing why he thought 2008 would be a good year for Democrats. You can find it on the Pew Center Web site. It is very persuasive -- not definitive, but persuasive.
Washington: I'm curious, do you vote, or do you abstain because you think it would interfere with your objectivity? If you do vote, at what point do you usually decide on a candidate to support (primary season, early general election, late general election, etc.)?
Robert G. Kaiser: Glad to have the opportunity to say that I do vote (unlike my friend and colleague Len Downie, who has for years said he avoids voting to help him avoid coming to a conclusion in his own mind about who would make the best president/mayor/whatever). But I often find it really hard, because, as a natural skeptic and trained doubter, I haven't been able to feel enthusiasm about a candidate in a long time. More than once I have cast a "wasted" vote on some kind of protest candidate. I decided very late on those.
The hard thing for nonjournalists to understand is how those of us here actually think. As I have said many times in earlier discussions, I never have had any idea how David Broder, Dan Balz or our other political reporters vote in elections (and most do vote). And those guys all worked for me for years when I was an editor here. We analyze; we speculate; we look for strengths and weaknesses. But even among ourselves, we very, very rarely state a preference.
Our big preference is for a good story. In 2008, we've got one!
Jacksonville, Fla.: For the person from Washington who doesn't believe Democrats would vote against Obama because they believe other people are too racist - Take a look at the posts on The Fix here at washingtonpost.com -- many liberal Democrats have posted comments that say exactly that. I have found that a certain type of liberal likes to believe that the country is far more racist than it actually is. I think it feeds their sense of moral superiority.
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for the post. Chris Hopkins has provided a link so people can follow your advice.
Philadelphia: I read there was a youth vote behind the Obama win. Is this replicable in New Hampshire?
Robert G. Kaiser: I should know more than I do about New Hampshire demographics, but if a lot of young turn out for Obama, it will certainly help him there.
New York: If Hillary was inevitable -- and I certainly thought she was -- what went wrong? She has the money, the name, her husband and all those advisers who have done so well for them all along.
Robert G. Kaiser: I think we have seen in our reporting and polling already what some of her problems are: she made a big mistake on Iraq, and another on Iran; she promises to bring back the Clinton era -- good news for some voters, bad news for others; she is a throwback, not a promise of big change, and this one is probably most salient. In the entrance poll tonight, 52 percent of Democrats said "the ability to bring about needed change" was the most important quality they were looking for in a candidate; of them, 51 percent voted for Obama.
Hillary Clinton is no Bill Clinton -- I think that's important too. She does not remotely have his capacity for empathy; she doesn't seem to connect with people the way he did; she does not have his natural political gifts. This may be hurting her now.
Edwardsville, Ill.: How much of Obama's success in Iowa has to do with the fact that he is from next door in Illinois? Neighbors always do well in the Iowa caucuses. In 1988, Missourian Dick Gephardt won and Paul Simon of Illinois came in second. In 1984, Minnesota's Walter Mondale won. And of course in 1992, Iowa's own Tom Harkin won handily. None of those men wound up president, and only one was the nominee.
Robert G. Kaiser: Interesting point, thanks. I can't answer the question.
Fox Lake, Wis.: Is it illegal to even mention Ron Paul's name on network television? Even on the web you have to be pretty determined to find sites that mention his name while supposedly reporting the news of the Iowa caucus results. Many sites mention Thompson and McCain "fighting it out for third" and talk about McCain's "resurgence," but finding any mention of Ron Paul, who is only slightly behind them, is extremely difficult. Why is this?
Robert G. Kaiser: Paul never has shown up higher than about 10 percent in any polls, has he? McCain's resurgence is visible in New Hampshire; I agree it's easy to exaggerate his resurgence in Iowa.
Philadelphia: Any gender breakdown in Iowa? Did Hillary do well with anyone but old ladies? Looks like Obama got a lot of young folks excited. Did Hillary?
Robert G. Kaiser: Obama won more women than Clinton, according to the entrance poll. Important fact, I think.
Fairfax County, Va.: Looking at the photos of the two projected winners (Obama and Huckabee), I would like to suggest one instant analysis: America (or at least Iowa) is not simply fed up with legislative "gridlock" or "the status quo." Like the kids in a divorce, we're truly tired of people yelling at each other and getting fighting mad. These two guys differ on so many issues, but they certainly come across as two of the nicest, most pleasant and least hostile of the candidates out there. What a relief from the old-style partisan shout-fests. What do you think?
Robert G. Kaiser: I like your comment. I wonder if Iowa's special traditions have a role in explaining this? Perhaps this is part of the new "weather"?
Cupertino, Calif.: How does Richardson's fourth-place finish carry into New Hampshire? Does he pick up the Biden and Dodd support?
Robert G. Kaiser: I nominate this as the most quixotic question of the evening...
Ankeny, Iowa: Finally getting my feet up after a hectic Democratic caucus event. 541 turnout in Crocker precinct Polk County, Iowa -- largest in its history. We ran out of voter registration forms and had to go begging from the Republicans in the cafeteria. Exhilarating and exhausting!
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for the report!
Mount Airy, Maryland: Why can't a Baptist minister be elected President? The comment you made is ridiculous. ... I do have a problem with someone who doesn't read the papers (uninformed) and who dismisses science...
Robert G. Kaiser: Because we have a long tradition in this country, going back to the founders, of keeping the clergy in church.
Iowa City, Iowa: The caucuses were very crowded tonight: We had around 620 people in a small elementary gym. There were problems with accurate counting of people, with hearing speakers, of knowing what to do when. It was so crowded we found it hard to talk and think. I think that produced biased results in some way. In Hillary Clinton's corner people left thinking the event was over and the group lost people even though newcomers had joined. Could it be that the Iowa caucuses don't and can't give accurate indications of what voters really think?
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks to you too...
Caucus Survivor: To New York: Out here on the wild prairie, at least, Hillary never looked inevitable. As many people hate her as love her. She's a divisive, polarizing figure who gets most of her support from people who toe the Democratic party line. I supported Obama partly because I like the Democrats, and I don't want them to nominate the one person who energizes the Republican base. Many other voters out here did the same thing.
Robert G. Kaiser: And to you...
Lexington, Ky.: How many votes did Alan Keyes receive?
Robert G. Kaiser: Wait a minute, here's a contender for the quixotic question trophy...
Bozeman, Mont.: I find it interesting that the Obama supporters are claiming victory, and in an obvious sense they may, but almost twice as many people voted for other candidates than him. Does this not concern him in his forward motion? Can these other candidates, Edwards and Clinton in particular, not collaborate on a unified effort to prevent his momentum somehow? Or is the -- again obvious -- historic individuality of the candidates insurmountable?
Robert G. Kaiser: Hmm. Good questions. I can't remember anyone winning more than 50 percent in an Iowa Democratic Caucus. My memory is far from perfect!
The big excitement of Obama supporters, I think, is explained by his biography, and by the drama of his rise over the last six months or so. He now does have what George H.W. Bush once called The Big Mo. It won't be easy for Hillary or Edwards, alone or together, to stop it. Not impossible, but difficult, I think.
Re: Ministers: How can you forget James Garfield? He was minister who was elected president.
washingtonpost.com: "Garfield was a minister and an elder for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), making him the first -- and to date, only -- member of the clergy to serve as president." (Wikipedia)
Robert G. Kaiser: Yes I almost mentioned old James. Might we refer to him as the exception who proves the rule?
Waterloo, Iowa: I am a Black precinct caucus chair in a mostly white precinct in Waterloo, Iowa. 202 people caucused in my precinct. The results were as follows: Obama -- 3 delegates; Edwards -- 2; Clinton -- 1. None of the other candidates had more than 14 supporters, while Kucinich and Gravel had 0 each. Obama has a strong, focused team, while Clinton's group was presumptuous. It's up to the rest of the country now -- I've done my part until after the Democratic National Convention!
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks. I am really grateful to all the Iowans who have posted tonight. I love the idea that washingtonpost.com is the place you would come to give us these reports.
Karachi, Pakistan: I have two part questions: In Iowa, what is the ratio of registered Democrats vs. Republicans? Also, historically, what percentage of Republicans and Democrats participate in presidential primaries and elections?
Robert G. Kaiser: Don't have those numbers at hand, but Bush carried Iowa last time, in 2004. It's always been a closely-divided state. It has one Democratic and one Republican senator. The difference in participation this year is striking; the Democrats turned out in unprecedented droves.
Marietta, Ga.: I know several people here in Georgia who like Obama but are afraid that racism will keep him from being elected. I think this win will help alleviate those fears. My feeling is that anyone who is that racist is not going to vote for a Democrat for president. The old "Dixiecrats" tend to vote for Dems in local races, and the GOP in national races.
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for the post.
Lime Springs, Iowa: It seems like the story isn't so much that Hillary lost, but that Obama won. I'm also hearing a lot about Edwards being finished. Is Hillary being propped up by a party-apparatus and media that still consider her the front-runner?
Robert G. Kaiser: Watching TV out of a corner of one eye, I don't get the sense that anyone is propping her up tonight.
Escondido, Calif.: Tim Russert thinks Iowa is a swing state (it was blue in 2000 and red in 2004). Could we possibly be looking at the entire election hinging on Iowa's five electoral votes? I suppose Diebold will move it's headquarters to Des Moines.
Robert G. Kaiser: I doubt it.
San Diego: Is Edwards or Hillary more apt to endorse the other?
Robert G. Kaiser: Hard to imagine Edwards endorsing Hillary.
Olympia, Wash.: About the race issue: I grew up in the rural South, where people still don't know that there are certain things that you just aren't supposed to say. I often heard white folks express the following sentiment, usually in these exact words: "There are black people, and there are (n-word)s." Those people would say that Obama is a black person.
People have a tough time talking about race in this country, but they have a much tougher time talking about class. The poor young angry urban black male scares middle-aged, middle-class white folks to death. Educated, middle-class, and "articulate" black men like Obama: not a threat. Race is a huge issue in this country, no doubt -- I am one of those liberals who makes a very big deal about race -- but Obama's race will not be the issue in this campaign that some might expect. Now, Hillary's gender, Romney's religion, Giuliani's Italian New Yorker background ... those are issues.
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks. Very interesting comment. You know, we have a great many younger black politicians now whose race seems almost secondary. Obama feels like one of them to me. And there is a lot of evidence that young people, under 30, just don't understand how their elders could have made such a big deal out of race. Maybe this is changing too?
Fox Lake, Wis.: Are you saying that if Ron Paul gets more than 10 percent of the vote in New Hampshire he will start to get some recognition in the mainstream media? Don't you think it is more likely that if he starts to get votes the Democrats, Republicans and MSM will team up to destroy him like they did with Ross Perot when he threatened the status quo? Thanks.
Robert G. Kaiser: Ron Paul has had quite a lot of attention from the mainstream media, including The Post. His fundraising has been impressive. But he hasn't had much support from voters. He has a devoted following, to be sure, but it isn't very big.
Caucus Survivor yet again: Of course Iowans came here to post results -- you have the best (and only) ongoing chat about the whole affair. Heck, you just posted something from my very own precinct chair in Waterloo. Remember me, Mr. T? I was the tall dude in the black shirt, holding the Obama sign.
Robert G. Kaiser: All right! Thanks.
Orland Park, Ill.: How popular is Oprah Winfrey in Iowa and how much influence did she have in this caucus do you think?
Robert G. Kaiser: David Broder thought she made a big impression in Iowa. I have no information of my own about this.
New York: I've found your theory on the fall of the republican party interesting ... what's your view on the impact to the party(s) if Bloomberg takes a stab at this?
Robert G. Kaiser: I am a third-party skeptic. On the one hand, as Perot showed in '92, as many as a fifth of the voters can vote for an independent. On the other hand, the system is heavily loaded against an outsider. I don't expect to see a third-party candidate win the White House.
Are you suggesting that Bloomberg might become the Republican nominee? Zero chance of that. He just quit the Republican Party. He shares none of the positions of today's Republicans. Well, he likes his mother.
Medinah, Ill.: I have two short questions Mr. Kaiser, the first being whether Obama is the first African American to win a primary/caucus, and the second being whether that, now that Obama is presumably the Democrats' front-runner you think it will change his strategy?
Robert G. Kaiser: I don't think Jesse Jackson ever won a caucus or primary; I am going to check to be sure.
Did you see Obama's speech tonight? It was remarkable. It suggested to me that he has his strategy for the rest of the year. I hope washingtonpost.com can post the full text, or the video of the full speech.
washingtonpost.com: Sen. Obama Delivers Remarks on Caucus Win in Iowa (washingtonpost.com, Jan. 3)
Washington: Can we take a moment to say so long to Sens. Biden and Dodd? More than 50 years of experience in the Senate and they couldn't garner 1 percent combined in the caucus!
Robert G. Kaiser: Both smart, serious people, too. Thanks for posting.
Ashland, Mo.: Is it wrong to think of everything before Feb. 5 as preseason baseball (or football) and that Feb. 5 is the real beginning of the election cycle because it will overwhelm anything that happens before?
Robert G. Kaiser: Yes. This was the beginning -- only the beginning, but its impact will be felt.
Cleveland Heights, Ohio: Iowa was worth the wait and wading through the daily punderium. On the other hand, if I hear the word "change" one more time. ... What's your intuition about what Hillary has left in her thematic tool box now that it seems probable that experience, womanhood, steely drive, nostalgia and her new dulcet voice couldn't turn back Mr. Obama?
Robert G. Kaiser: You've asked the $64,000 questions. Why indeed do Democrats need Hillary, if they have an exciting alternative who happens to be 15 years younger and a fresh face? Mark Penn and her other strategists are going to have to come up with something pretty good to answer that, I think.
St. Louis: Have all of the votes been counted at this point? Is it possible to see the number of votes for each candidate instead of percentages? Also, one wonders if any of the winners had reservations about ethanol? It is my understanding that growing crops for ethanol really has boosted land prices, etc.
Robert G. Kaiser: As I said earlier, we don't get individual numbers tonight, if ever. Each caucus had a fixed, small number of delegates it could choose. We are learning who got those delegates. In some precincts, a handful of voters could choose a delegate; in big-city precincts, it took scores or even hundreds to pick a delegate. In other words, rural voters have a lot more influence than urban ones. It's a lousy system.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa: After a record turnout in our caucus, 287 folks, I am proud of Iowans who braved cold temperatures to vote their conscience. It appeared the young folks who attended were Obama supporters, excited, energized. It was a great night to be an Iowan...
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for posting!
Pacific Junction, Iowa: I was at our local caucus in a small rural county where we had about four times the amount of people than four years ago. I was one of three Biden supporters in the room and there were five Richardson supporters. Three of the Richardson supporters and all of us Biden supporters flocked to Edwards without a second thought, as we wanted experience and change with solid leadership (I asked them as well). Edwards finished just behind Clinton and Obama. Obama's crowd was very young, 18 to early 20s, mostly. Do you really think that these young supporters will be that reliable after today?
Robert G. Kaiser: Another intriguing report from the scene. Thanks. The young are traditionally the least reliable participants in the system. Is tradition relevant? I have no idea. Note that in the entrance poll, Iowa women -- not just young women, all women -- favored Obama over Clinton and everyone else.
Maryland: I'm not big on Hillary but I'm really for a woman in the White House. What are the chances that Obama (if he wins) will choose a woman as a running mate?
Robert G. Kaiser: I have no idea.
Bethesda, Md.: I don't have a question. I would like to compliment and thank Mr. Kaiser for the most intelligent and accessible sustained discussion of political issues I've seen this year.
Robert G. Kaiser: Are you my cousin? Or a childhood friend? (I grew up in Bethesda.) Thank you!
Crookston, Minn.: Mr. Kaiser, how big an influence do you think Michelle Obama had in Iowa? I listened to several of her speeches, and the woman seems to have a lot of power on the platform.
Robert G. Kaiser: Agreed. You have to wonder if she undercut the idea that women ought to be for Hillary. Or if Oprah did.
Iowa City, Iowa: Sorry guys, but in my caucus I saw the Obama people bullying poor Richardson's diehards -- terrible, not always polite and nice. Iowans feel passionately about their candidates. This was messy politics and it was very amazing. The state has invested so much time and energy in this event. And are you really going to let someone get away with this comment about Clinton? "She's a divisive, polarizing figure who gets most of her support from people who toe the Democratic party line."
Please. Her caucus corner was full of men, women of all ages, with notable turnout from the gay community. What was missing was teenage men. I do think Clinton made a mistake by providing refreshments for her corner -- it just wasn't Iowan -- not sure how to explain it. But it is much more complex than "divisive." Isn't that what people always say about strong women?
Robert G. Kaiser: This is really terrific. Thanks to you for thinking of us to file this report.
Arlington, Va.: Is it accurate to think tonight was a blow to conventional wisdom and pundits leading up to the vote for the past many months? The two front-runners, Clinton and Romney, both suffered humiliations. Is this just a commentary on the unpredictability of such things months, or even weeks, ahead? Or something more?
Robert G. Kaiser: Thank you for this. Yes! The conventional wisdom is a curse. So, so much of the commentary in 2007 was feckless speculation based on assumptions and prejudices, not facts or even wisdom. Americans are not very political most of the time. To try to divine their thinking more than a year before an election is very risky, and fruitless -- but the 24-7 news culture seems to demand very early predictions. They should be ignored by people as smart as you.
Akron, Ohio: I'm curious why Saturday's Wyoming caucus isn't getting getting any coverage at all. My understanding is that the delegate count will be reduced as a penalty for calendar gamesmanship, but there still will be delegates awarded. I can't even find a poll anywhere online. Your thoughts?
washingtonpost.com: Will Anyone Notice Wyoming Caucuses? (AP, Jan. 3)
Robert G. Kaiser: Chris Hopkins has found a story. Wyoming has very few delegates. Polls are expensive. There's too much else going on.
Portland, Ore.: Kaiser: Breaking new ground, have you received any indication of the prominent issues from the entrance polls? If yes, what percentage did the economy receive? Iraq? Health Care? Farm subsidies? By the way, for all the Midwest bashers, Iowa likely produces a greater amount of its energy from biofuels or renewable sources (particularly wind) than your pollution-addled domicile. Get with the program.
Robert G. Kaiser: I'll try to give you a few numbers.
For Democrats, the poll says these were the big issues:
Need for change: 51 percent
War in Iraq: 36 percent
Health care: 27 percent
Illegal immigration: 32
The economy: 26
War in Iraq: 17
Greenbelt, Md.: Jesse Jackson won many primaries in '84 and '88, including Michigan.
Robert G. Kaiser: Thank you. I remember Michigan, now that you mention it.
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks to all -- especially you Iowans -- for this engaging conversation. I enjoyed it and hope you did too. We shared some interesting history tonight. More to come!
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