Voters have finally had their say and the presidential race is now underway. While no one should be surprised that Senator Barack Obama and former Governor Mike Huckabee won their respective party caucuses in Iowa, there are some observations that should be noted as we look to New Hampshire and beyond. I picked former Senator John Edwards and former Governor Mitt Romney to win their respective party caucuses so, perhaps, the first observation should be that this is not the first time I've been wrong, nor will it be the last.
On the Democratic side, three things stand out. First, Barack Obama's comfortable win suggests that his personal charisma and message for change resonated well with Iowans and energized voters all over the state. Just look at the turnout. About 212,000 Democrats turnout for these caucuses, a gigantic increase over the 2004 total of 125,000 caucus-goers. Further, Obama got an impressive 41 percent of all first-time caucus participants and dominated the support of those between 17 - 29.
Second, Hillary Clinton did well in Iowa, but not well enough to justify her decision to compete in the Hawkeye state. She should have followed the advice she received in that infamous May 2007 memorandum that recommended she bypass the state because it didn't set up well for her. The campaign played the risk-reward card, trying to knock out Obama early and conserving its resources for the general election. That didn't pan out, so she looks more like a loser than she really is following Iowa. This places a premium on a strong finish in New Hampshire.
Third, it's difficult to see how John Edwards can pull out the nomination given his lack of fundraising and organization. While Huckabee was able to pull off Iowa with little money, it's doubtful that Edwards can do the same in New Hampshire given the strength of his competition.
On the Republican side, Huckabee's margin of victory may bring down the curtains on the Romney campaign. Romney was polling even with Huckabee before the Iowa caucuses. The bump Huckabee will receive, coupled with a resurgent Senator John McCain, leaves very little running room for Romney. All the pressure now rests on Romney, who is about to go into two states, New Hampshire and South Carolina, that are not well-suited to his candidacy. Meanwhile, McCain and former Senator Fred Thompson remain viable options for conservative Republicans.
One caveat for the Obama supporters who seek "change": Idealism is fine, but bringing about change will require much more than talk and a new president. All presidents need at least 60 votes in the Senate and a majority of votes in the House of Representatives to get their preferred legislation passed. Consequently, change is not as easy as just changing presidents. While congressional public approval numbers hover around 20 percent, more than 90 percent of all members of the House who seek reelection win. In other words, the public doesn't vote its feelings about Congress. This is significant conflict that reveals the schizophrenic nature of American voters. If voters really want change, then they will have to give Obama a completely new Congress to bring about the change he is proposing. Maintaining the status quo Congress won't get the job done. The electorate will have to be brave enough to vote for change up and down the ballot, not just the top of the ticket if they really want change.