The Iowa caucuses have a spotty track record for picking presidents, so the results this time will be only mildly significant. I’d say they have about a 50-50 shot of determining the ultimate winner in either contest.
In 1972, they missed the mark by backing Edmund Muskie over George McGovern in the Democratic contest. They did better in 1976, the first time the Republicans participated as well, when they tapped Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter for the nomination. That pretty much cemented their reputation as the nation’s political weather barometer. But they missed again in 1980 when they backed George H. W. Bush over Ronald Reagan for the GOP nod. They were also wide of the mark in 1988 when they backed Bob Dole over George H.W. Bush and Richard Gephardt and Paul Simon over Michael Dukakis.
1992 was another big whiff when they went overwhelmingly for home state favorite Tom Harkin over Bill Clinton.
But in more recent years they have made a come back in electoral prognostication by helping to boost Bob Dole in 1996, George W. Bush in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004.
For 2008, it looks like the Iowa caucuses are going to swing and miss yet again. I think this is due partly to their cumbersome caucus system which is slow to respond to recent trends. Mike Huckabee, for example, is still considered a rising star in Iowa whereas he appears to have already flamed out in other parts of the nation. And yet, it looks like Mitt Romney’s millions will still win out. However, the really interesting news is that John McCain’s electoral prospects have suddenly rebounded and he is now tied for the lead in New Hampshire and is back in the running in the national polls. In fact, I still think McCain could end up being the Republican nominee as the disgust with Guiliani’s marital problems continues to reverberate through the party and as Huckabee’s religious extremism and lack of foreign policy knowledge continues to weigh down his campaign.
On the Democratic side, I am mostly indifferent to the Iowa outcome as I like all of the leading candidates and could support any of them for president. It still looks as if Hillary could end up as the nominee, but I would be just as happy with Obama or Edwards.