Iowa: Second Choices And Deals

Chris Bowers has an interesting post on the second choices in Iowa and the deals the candidates might strike. First a quick primer on why this matters.

In Iowa, Democrats operate under one of the most undemocratic systems one could imagine. There is no secret ballot AND if your choice does not reach 15% in a PARTICULAR precinct, your vote does not count. Frankly, this is all outrageous and should not be countenanced. But because the Iowa caucus has been sanctified as some pure form of political participation, we ignore this outrageous system that utterly distorts the actual preferences of Iowa caucus goers. Thus, when the Media reports the Iowa results, they will be reporitng a lie -- the result they will be reporting will NOT accurately reflect the actual preferences of the Iowa caucus goers, just the delegate division.

So what does this mean for caucus goers whose choices are not viable in a precinct and their second choices? That they could become important. On the flip let's discuss it.

Bowers writes:

In a campaign this close, the deciding factor might very well be what deals the different campaigns can make with each other. In the event they fail to reach the 15% threshold in any given precinct, every campaign will probably instruct the local campaign precinct captain to caucus for a single, different candidate. The candidate who is able to scoop up the most of these second-place endorsements will probably win the caucus.

To me this raises two questions. First, do we expect any of the top 3 to not be viable in any precincts? I have no idea but my sense is this seems implausible, certainly to the degrere that it would be a widespread phenomena. Bowers seems to believe it will be common and thus theorizes about what deals the top 3 might make:

Edwards and Obama Given that neither Obama nor Edwards can afford a Clinton victory in Iowa, it seems highly unlikely to me that either campaign will instruct their precinct captains to go with Clinton as a second-place choice. However, they are also competing against each other, it also seems unlikely to me that the Edwards campaign would go with Obama, or that the Obama campaign would go with Edwards, unless there is a mutual agreement to endorse each other. Such a deal might make sense for both campaigns, since Edwards and Obama are stronger in different areas of the state and since it would probably send Clinton into a third place finish.

This seems dead wrong to me. Edwards can not afford an Obama victory either. I think the obstacles to an Edwards-Obama alliance are dealbreaking. I see no possible deal between Edwards and Obama.

For the same reason, it seems to me that there is no likely dealmaking with Clinton with either of the other two top tier candidates. And frankly, how much dealing can we expect anyway? There are likely very few delegates to be had by any of them as they are the 3 of them likely to be viable in all or almost all the precincts.

Oh by the way, even if they did make deals, who is going to be able to enforce them? I mean it is not like these candidates have strangleholds on their delegates.

So what of the lower tier candidates who are not likely to be viable in all or even most precincts? Remember no other candidate is even close to 15% in the polling. Can these candidates make deals? Perhaps and maybe some delegates will change as a result, but it is more likely that these delegates are even more free agent-like than those of the top tier. I imagine most of them are going to do whatever they want anyway.

Bowers writes:


Well, he struck a deal with Edwards last time, so why not again? Seems to make sense.


His campaign has overwhelmingly focused on residual forces, so I imagine he would go with the top-tier candidate who is closest to him on that position. From where I sit, that is Edwards.


I can't imagine he would go with Obama, given earlier foot in the mouth moments on that front. My feeling is that Clinton makes the most sense for his campaign.


Dodd is the hardest one to read, in my opinion. However, if forced to guess, my feeling is that he would lean toward Obama, Mainly, this is because I have everyone else leaning toward either Edwards or Clinton. Someone has to lean toward Obama.

This is all sounds rather unconvincing to me. But as predictions of the likely second choice preferences of these candidates it seems about right.

Kucinich probably does have the ability to make deals, his supporters are pretty committed. So I see the deal with Edwards being a real possibility again. Will it make a big difference? I dunno. I don't know if it made a big difference in 2004 either.

Richardson supporters, it seems to me, are not about the residual forces business. Chris is personally vested in that so he thinks it was a big deal. It wasn't. Besides, Richardson's support is tanking as we speak. I doubt he'll have much to offer in the way of caucus goers anyway. Same with Dodd.

But Biden strikes me as a different story and I think Biden's personal inclination and the likely makeup of his voters will favor Clinton. I COULD see a deal between Clinton and Biden AND I could also see Biden folks supporitng Clinton as their second choice. And Biden is rising in Iowa, passing Richardson for fourth in most recent polls.

So, unlike most observers, I think the second choice issue could very well cut in Hillary's favor, not in Edwards or Obama's favor as many have suggested.

In any event, this is all guesswork.

< Iowa Statistics | DMR: On The Campaign Trail >
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    ok, i am now convinced, (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by cpinva on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 11:55:07 AM EST
    iowa means, well, pretty much nothing, to any of the candidates. not only is it wholly non-reflective of the country's demographics (the same goes for NH), their entire caucus process is a farce.

    with barely 1% of the total population of the country, i can't think of any good reason to care what iowans think.

    Complicated Counting (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by BDB on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 12:06:27 PM EST
    My understanding is that there will be precincts where at least one of the big 3 will not be viable, but I find it hard to believe there will be very many.

    desmoinesdem at mydd.com has her latest post up and it talks about how a precinct captain can try to change delegate counts in the caucus room.  Fascinating.  And all the more reason not to put too much faith in polls.

    The whole process is so flawed. (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by oculus on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 12:14:38 PM EST
    HOw is it decided how many delegates each precinct is alloted?  Based on number of persons who voted Dem. in the two previous presidential elections, not present no. of registered Dems. in the precinct.  

    Footnote:  surprising to learn from Jeralyn's stats that Iowa remains 95% Caucasian.  

    It is a TOTAL lie (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 12:25:54 PM EST
    The fact is this is a disgrace AND likely to decide the next President of the United States.

    This is insanity.


    If Richardson has any influence on his (none / 0) (#5)
    by Teresa on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 12:33:37 PM EST
    supporters, I don't see him sending them Edwards' way. Clinton, more likely. I also agree with BTD on the Biden people.

    I'm not sure why I've never read the details of the caucus process in Iowa until this year, but I can't believe this flawed process is allowed to have so much influence on who gets the nomination.

    Before anyone paid attention (none / 0) (#6)
    by JSN on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 12:47:20 PM EST
    to the Iowa caucus we spent most of the time working on
    the party platform. Now we don't spend any time on the platform (not that the candidates care). It is unproductive to introduce resolutions during a presidential year caucus.

    Many people who would like to attend the caucus are unable to do so because of scheduling conflicts and some elderly or handicapped persons do not attend because they are unable to stand in line for a long time or stand during the caucus if there is insufficient seating.

    The caucus rules used by Democrats were introduced by George McGovern when he was party chairman. There a fair number of those rules and the viability rule did speed up the process. Another example of causing a more serious new problem in fixing an old problem.

    They have spent a huge amount of money on process that is likely to produce an ambiguous result. I am not the only old grouch they have annoyed.

    Congratulations to the Clinton Campaign (none / 0) (#7)
    by RedHead on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 12:59:03 PM EST
    Based on the internals of latest set of polls and the quality of Clinton's ground game, Obama is finishes no better that 2nd or 3rd in Iowa, which translates into a BIG victory for Clinton - even if she comes in 2nd to Edwards.

    Edward could conceivably win South Carolina, but he doesn't have the dough nor the machine to compete with Clinton on Super Tuesday.

    Obama's defeat will push wavering NH Indies into the McCain camp, allowing Clinton to nail the big prize by 8 to 14 points.  

    In the end, fighting to the finish line will be more beneficial than cruising to victory because she will be able declare herself the "Comeback Kid."  

    The big question, now, is who does she select for VEEP: Evan Bayh, Wes Clark, or even Chuck Hagel.

    I understand the interest in Bayh, but given Indiana's red presidential history, there is sizable doubt to whether Bayh can carry his home state.  Clark would be a natural symbol on security issues and he isn't dull or colorless, like Bayh.

    The other issue is how does she get a fair hearing by the gang of 500, who so despised her husband, especially if media darling McCain is her opponent. That's where Hagel would help out, as the gang of 500 craves the worn and meaningless veil of bipartisanship.  Of course McCain could counter and select the king of the "serious" set, none other than Joe Lieberman.  

    Not Hagel (none / 0) (#27)
    by BDB on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 04:20:34 PM EST
    No way does Clinton choose Hagel, he's very conservative on a lot of social issues.  Plus, she's a partisan Democrat and I don't see her choosing a Republican under any circumstance.  

    I think Wes Clark would be a good choice.  It probably gives her Arkansas.  His credentials as a retired General probably help make independents feel better about voting for a woman and at the same time it helps with progressives because of his anti-war stance.   Plus, she's known him a long time and so they are likely to work well together and trust one another.

    I don't see her choosing Bayh, particularly after his Bhutto comments.  He doesn't really get her anywhere with independents because he doesn't have the standing and he's likely to upset her base and, in any case, Indiana is a difficult state to flip.  If she's going to go to the midwest, I'd say Vilsack, who has worked his ass off for her in Iowa or Strickland in Ohio - since both those states are probably in play.

    But, first, she has to get the nomination and I'm not at all sure that's a done deal.

    If Obama is the nominee, I think Biden would be a good choice.  The Village loves to tout his foreign policy experience and he's a tough debater, willing to go for the jugular.  

    If it's Edwards, then maybe Strickland as well since he's from a state that is key and has suffered its share of manufacturing losses.  Jim Webb would also fit with a populist message and Virginia has been turning into a more competitive state for Democrats.


    Partisan Winner (none / 0) (#29)
    by RedHead on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 05:36:13 PM EST
    I think she's a fighter and a progressive at heart, but she's a winner first.  And she will do what it takes to win.

    She did the Murdoch's fundraiser, the Monsanto fundraiser, the Gingrich photo-opt, the DLC's American Dream Initiative, hired Terry McAuliff and Michael Whooley, and voted for K-L and the Iraq war blank check because she thought that would help her win the general election.

    You know, she was the lone senator to vote against Chertoff when Bush nominated him to the bench, but after 9-11 she put away her sentiments and supported him for Homeland Security.

    Some people see these actions as a negative, I view them as actions of someone who has repeatedly won elections.

    Vilsack is certainly on the short-short list.  He would likely carry Iowa, which is a purple state.  I'm not sure about Strickland, because he was just elected in 2006.

    I forgot, the gang of 500 is has a new name "the village" - that's a good one.

    I really think Obama is toast.  That's the way the cookie crumbles.

    Your points are right on.


    Winner, not a leader (5.00 / 1) (#31)
    by Rojas on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 09:29:13 PM EST
    Game's over if she pulls it off.

    game ? (none / 0) (#32)
    by RedHead on Sun Dec 30, 2007 at 06:43:17 AM EST
    you mean, breaking the current political dynamic?

    just asking

    But if you need a stiff drink, you better get one handy, baring an unforeseen screwupClinton is the heavy-heavy favorite to win the nomination.  Edwards is the only one in position to defeat her, but it's a long-long shot.

    If he wins IA, NH, and SC I am going to buy a gross of popcorn and watch the hand to hand combat btn the Bloggerati (Taylor Marsh, NonOfficialClintonites or NOCs) and the proletariat.   Can you imagine the claymation death match btn David Sirota and BTD!

    I am also interested in how her nomination impacts the blogosphere.  JRE, BO, and Kucinich supporters  together account for 80% of the proletariat.  They are going to have their wind knocked out.  Traffic will plunge between Super Tuesday and the convention, from lack of enthusiasm.  And I can't even imagine the fury if Bush bombs Iran and uses K-L for cover.


    I don't think the lack of secrecy is outrageous (none / 0) (#8)
    by Maryb2004 on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 12:59:41 PM EST
    The 15% rule is a problem.  

    When I first started voting we were a caucus state and there are times when I think it makes far more sense than a primary for picking a party's candidate (especially in my state where you don't have to register for a primary so you get Republicans voting  in the Democratic primary and vice versa, not to mention Greens and other smaller party members if they choose to take a Democratic ballot).  The turnout for caucuses is small but it really does tend toward the party faithful.  

    I thought Bowers' point (which I don't think you quoted) about Obama supporters being young and maybe not knowing what to do if they don't have fifteen percent might be a valid point.  I was college age during my caucuses and found that you really do tend to rely on people who've done it before.  But like you, I find it unlikely that there will be many places where Obama doesn't have the 15%.  

    So where it might matter more isn't in deciding where to throw support but in convincing others to come over to their side of the room.  If the Obama supporters in Iowa are anything like the DailyKos Obama supporters they might drive away natural allies :)

    Just Curious (none / 0) (#11)
    by RedHead on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 01:18:32 PM EST
    I find it difficult to read read Big Orange on a regular basis, let alone the candidate diaries and anti-candidate diaries, but from my limited reading, isn't the stridency of the O-team limited to Clinton?  That is I didn't see any combat in the pro-Edwards diaries.

    Heh (none / 0) (#13)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 01:25:27 PM EST
    But I totallly disagree with  you about the secret ballot issue.

    Semi Contrarian view (none / 0) (#9)
    by Molly Bloom on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 01:04:16 PM EST
    Secret ballots are not required for democracy. They were "invented" to prevent obvious abuse.

    Just because your candidate didn't get 15% doesn't mean your vote didn't count. It counted as much as George Allen's vote in the 2006 Virginia election. It just wasn't enough.  At least in Iowa you get a "do over" and the opportunity to influence an outcome.

    I think Edwards would be happy with a close 2nd to Clinton. It would be much easier to contrast himself with her than Obama in a chnage v status quo argument.

    But that is nonsense (5.00 / 1) (#12)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 01:24:16 PM EST
    on BOTH counts.

    The secret ballot was instituted so that voters could vote free of pressure of any kind, including having your neighbors know how you voted.

    As for your George Allen example, that is silly as there was an absolute winner on that election.

    This cacucus is for selecting DELEGATES. The ARBITRARY precinct/viability system is not intended to reflect the views of
    Iowa voters. It is intended to make candidates travel all over the state.

    And this is important why? To spread the wealth of the pot of gold Iowa gets from having the caucuses throughout the state.

    And if Iowa wnats to be first, then it has to take into account the truth, not just look to its parochial interests.

    If Iowa was last, I would not care. But it DEMANDS that it be first. If it wants that then it needs to be democratic and fair.

    It simply is not.


    I don't think having any state first (none / 0) (#15)
    by andgarden on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 01:50:36 PM EST
    is particularly democratic. Especially a state as unrepresentative as Iowa.

    Which state would be more representative (none / 0) (#17)
    by Molly Bloom on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 02:15:00 PM EST
    and would that state allow for up close and personal politics?

    "Up close and personal" is irrelevant (none / 0) (#19)
    by andgarden on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 02:20:26 PM EST
    if I don't get a vote. And small states are already over represented in the U.S. Government.

    If we have to do primaries by state, it should  by a rotation of big states.


    That would add to the cost, but ok (none / 0) (#23)
    by Molly Bloom on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 02:47:35 PM EST
    which state is more representative?

    If you treated California and Texas (none / 0) (#24)
    by andgarden on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 02:51:12 PM EST
    as one state--probably combined with Pennsylvania, New York, or Ohio, you'd get something fairer.

    Frankly, if we're going to change this, I'm going to insist on having a vote, and that probably means a national primary.


    Thing is (none / 0) (#25)
    by illissius on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 03:27:21 PM EST
    wouldn't a national primary give a massive, nearly insurmountable advantage to the establishment candidate? Imagine if Obama and Edwards had to overcome their huge polling deficit versus Clinton not just in the first few states, but in all of them at once.

    Yeah, why not just hold the general election (none / 0) (#26)
    by andgarden on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 03:35:54 PM EST
    in Iowa?

    Interesting viewpoint (none / 0) (#16)
    by Molly Bloom on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 02:10:53 PM EST
    How does this:

    The secret ballot was instituted so that voters could vote free of pressure of any kind, including having your neighbors know how you voted.

    differ from what I said regarding it being invented to prevent obvious abuse? I think you gave examples of some of the abuse of open ballots (peer pressure and fear of reprisal). I would add the ability of bribers to see if their bribery paid off. As I recall early ballots were printed by the parties and were distinguishable.

    If none of the candidates get 15%, then presumably the voting continues until the deadlock is broken. If some candidate got more than 15%, your candidate didn't get a majority and lost that precinct anyway and your voted counted as much as George Allen's did, but not enough.

    If your argument is against winner take all or winners of more than 15% split all the votes proportinately, then your argument is not against the 15% rule as much as against any rule not  counting all the votes regardless of how small the percentage. That is a reasonable position and one I respect.

    The 15% rule does allow the voter to vote their next favorite choice and that is not an inconsequential effect and if I were participating in a caucus, one that I might want to make use of. I don't know that I would feel shafted in doing so.


    Secret ballots make sense in an election (none / 0) (#18)
    by Maryb2004 on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 02:19:53 PM EST
    but in the truest sense caucuses aren't really supposed to be elections.  I've never felt more a part of the Democratic Party in my state than in my first two presidential elections when we were a caucus state.  The caucus was a meeting of party members to discuss and hash out who you think your delegates to the convention should vote for and what issues are important in your precinct. It didn't bother me in the least that I had to physically go stand with a group to show my support. It was a meeting where a communal decision needed to be made. They were neighbors - it made the party stronger to see who of your neighbors were strong party members and what they thought was important.

    The fact that entire Democratic Party, including the state parties, has moved to a point where the caucus system makes no sense doesn't mean they should have secret ballots at the caucus.   They should probably just move to a primary system and be done with it.  The party is about raising money now, not about platforms or issues.  They should just face facts and be done with it.


    How does Edwards go forward?? (none / 0) (#10)
    by RedHead on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 01:13:40 PM EST
    He's likely 10 pts behind Clinton in NH.  Would a 5 pt victory in Iowa provide enough of a bounce change that dynamic?

    And if he does pull it off, winning both Iowa and NH, how does he beat the the Clinton machine with limited resources, especially when Clinton will drop a ton of bricks on his campaign?


    I probably overstated (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by Molly Bloom on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 01:43:25 PM EST
    Edwards would be happier to finish 2nd to Clinton than Obama. Clearly finishing 2nd is not optimal for him.

     How he moves forward depends entirely on the media he gets, the response of his supporters and a variety of other factors. Is he likely to go all the way? At this point seems like a long shot. But then so did Kerry.


    Clinton AF (none / 0) (#22)
    by RedHead on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 02:47:23 PM EST
    I see Clinton heavy bombers orbiting above team Edwards, ready to dump their payloads on Jan-4.

    Best wishes.


    caucuses (none / 0) (#20)
    by chemoelectric on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 02:29:46 PM EST
    I don't mind having a non-secret ballot here in Minnesota, although we don't have these arcane 15% rules (unless someone has changed things since last time). But it really isn't a very good process, I would agree, and by then too much water will have passed under the bridge. Neither is an open primary, for that matter, such a good way to make an explicitly partisan decision.

    The whole election process is kind of a mess in this country.

    I forgot to say (none / 0) (#21)
    by chemoelectric on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 02:31:27 PM EST
    I don't mind non-secret ballot because how I am going to vote is open to the world already, but under other conditions I might feel otherwise.

    i have a question: (none / 0) (#28)
    by cpinva on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 04:42:36 PM EST
    the purpose of the caucus, as i understand it, is to vote for delegates to the national convention, to determine who they will vote to nominate. is there a mechanism that prevents them from voting for someone other than the pre-determined candidate?

    what's to stop them from changing their minds, once they get there? is there some sort of secret iowa corn police, who will cart them off, in the middle of the night, if they don't vote the right way?

    At the county convention they are supposed (none / 0) (#30)
    by JSN on Sat Dec 29, 2007 at 08:23:07 PM EST
    to vote for their candidate on the first ballot but in many cases the candidate has dropped out of the race before the convention takes place. If they are representing two or more groups who merged to become viable it can get rather complicated.

    Keep in mind that the Iowa caucus and NH primary are only important in deciding who will continue to get financial support. If the money supply dries up the candidate becomes a former candidate.

    I would like to see the choice of time slots for the first four caucus/primaries decided by a lottery where for a state to purchase a ticket they have to pay $1 per vote cast in their  state for president in the last election.