Behind the Iowa Results

By: Wall Street Journal

What Worked, What Went Wrong on the Campaign Trail

Iowa caucusgoers were faced with a stark choice: Mike Huckabee, Baptist minister and former Arkansas governor, or Mitt Romney, buttoned-down former governor of Massachusetts. Mr. Huckabee rode a late surge of support from passionate evangelical voters, while Mr. Romney used his skills as a management consultant to build a powerful ground organization.

The third candidate at the top of the national polls, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, opted out of competing in Iowa, where his liberal social views were unlikely to win him much support.
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MIKE HUCKABEE’S REMARKABLE VICTORY in Iowa was fueled by a powerful evangelical voter base attracted to his unwavering views on social issues and God-infused message from the stump. His strong sense of humor, master storytelling and populist promise to represent Main Street over Wall Street added to his appeal.

Mr. Huckabee advertised himself as a consistent conservative and a Christian leader, both implicit digs at Mr. Romney, who once held more liberal views on abortion and gay rights, and whose Mormonism made some Christians uncomfortable.

Mr. Romney led the race for most of 2007. But by late November, Mr. Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor, had taken the lead as religious voters frustrated with better-funded competitors gravitated to the candidate seen as most dedicated to their issues.

Mr. Huckabee told audiences that victory would shake the political world and, indeed, the former Arkansas governor overcame a massive financial mismatch. Mr. Romney spent a total of $7 million on TV ads over the course of the Iowa campaign to Mr. Huckabee’s $1.4 million, according to an independent estimate. Over the last three weeks, much of the Romney spending went to a barrage of negative ads attacking Mr. Huckabee’s record on immigration, crime and foreign policy.

But Mr. Huckabee resisted putting attacks of his own on the air, convinced that Iowa voters would respond to an optimistic, positive campaign. Just three days ago, he was set to run a harsh ad attacking Mr. Romney, only to pull it at the last minute. The move was ridiculed by the national press as a ploy to have it both ways, but played well into Iowans’ sense that he was above the fray.

“Every piece of political advice is you got to go and attack those guys right back,” he said on New Year’s Day in Council Bluffs. “It came down to, if a man gains the whole world and loses his own soul, what does it profit him?” he said, quoting Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. “And I decided, even the presidency, as important as it is, if I can’t do it with self respect and can’t do it with decency, it’s not worth doing.”

His supporters seemed to appreciate the move. “I don’t think he’s going to be out there running attack ads. I would hope that he doesn’t,” said Scott Beattie, a 41-year-old attorney from Pleasant Hill, who heard Mr. Huckabee speak in Indianola over the final weekend of campaigning.

Mr. Huckabee had been willing to criticize the Bush administration at times, particularly on foreign policy. His victory reflects the fact that even some Republicans are frustrated with the president.

While Mr. Romney sported a much more organized campaign with a network of supporters built over months, Mr. Huckabee relied on coalitions of voters — pastors, home schoolers and supporters of the “fair tax,” a national sales tax meant to replace federal income taxes — passionately dedicated to his cause.

Until mid-November, Mr. Huckabee was firmly situated in the second tier of candidates. His campaign was jump-started by a TV ad called “Believe,” where Mr. Huckabee laid out his case as a man whose life has been shaped by God. “Faith doesn’t just influence me. It really defines me,” he said in the spot.

It came as religious voters, who make up a significant portion of the Republican electorate, were shopping for a candidate after other choices disappointed for one reason or another.

“He’s unabashed about his faith,” said Greg Heartsill, 36, a fence contractor from Columbia, Iowa. “On the big issues, he’s right in line with where I am.”

– Laura Meckler
* * *
WHEN IT CAME TIME TO MAKE A DECISION, Iowans opted against Mitt Romney. The millionaire from Massachusetts who spent more time and money than any of his opponents approached the Hawkeye contest as a science, not an art. But with his picture-perfect image, Mormon faith and pro-choice past, he struggled to connect to heartland residents.

Accusations that he lacked authenticity hit Mr. Romney the hardest shortly before Christmas, just as he was closing the gap with Mr. Huckabee in the Iowa polls. After saying on multiple occasions that he “saw” his dad march with Martin Luther King Jr., Mr. Romney faced new evidence to the contrary. Not only did he say that he didn’t actually see the pair together, questions arose as to whether Mr. Romney’s father ever marched with the civil-rights champion.

At a press conference in Fort Dodge, Iowa, on Dec. 20, he grew increasingly defensive with reporters and made it an argument about semantics. “If you look at the literature or the dictionary the term ‘saw’ includes being aware of in the sense I have described,” he said. “I did not see it with my own eyes, but I saw him in the sense of being aware of his participation in that great effort.”

The press repeatedly outnumbered the supporters at many of his final events. Set in obscure locales, like the small airports where his chartered plane landed, the audience was often made up curious Iowans or of out-of-towners.

Voters also questioned his claims of being an everyman. A one-term governor, Mr. Romney regularly told Iowans he hasn’t been in politics “long enough to be infected.” Yet he made his first attempt at public office more than a decade ago in a failed bid for the U.S. Senate. His father was a three-term governor of Michigan and ran for president in 1968; his mother had her own failed bid for a seat in the U.S. Senate.
After his loss in Iowa, Mitt Romney arrives in New Hampshire in hopes of winning the high-stakes GOP presidential primary in the state next week. WSJ’s Elizabeth Holmes follows the candidate from Iowa to New Hampshire.

Patti Ziegler, a Democrat who attended a Romney event, wasn’t swayed by what she saw. She deemed him “likeable” but took issue with his comments about every child deserving a mother and a father — standard stump fare for Mr. Romney. “I just know a lot of people who don’t have that luxury,” said Mrs. Ziegler, a teacher from Newton, Iowa. “I think he’s a little bit out of touch with some of what really goes on.”

Mr. Romney was also the first candidate to go negative — and stay there. He released the first intra-party attack ad aimed at Mr. Huckabee Dec. 10, and another a week later. The spots were still in rotation on the eve of the caucus. In the final hours, he also took on Arizona Sen. John McCain, who had by and large conceded Iowa long ago.

“I understand Sen. McCain is back in Iowa. Welcome to Iowa, senator,” he said Wednesday morning in Bettendorf, Iowa, during the opening remarks before a press conference.

The Energizer Bunny of candidates also showed some signs of waning in the final hours. He occasionally lost his train of thought and sometimes botched his words altogether. At a coffee shop in Altoona, Iowa, he stood on a box and declared: “I won’t remember my friends here in Iowa. You’ve been an inspiration to me and Ann.” His wife corrected him and Mr. Romney chuckled. “I said ‘I won’t forget.’ I won’t forget to remember. Thanks, sweetie.”

– Elizabeth Holmes

Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, bidding to become the nation’s first African-American president, set himself apart from his two closest competitors — New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards — in the Iowa caucuses, winning the first contest in a long race.
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A BIG KEY TO BARACK OBAMA’S WIN was a strategy he adopted early on of targeting voters who were otherwise unlikely to caucus. It was a risky, even foolhardy strategy, political operatives from rival camps said, mainly because it rarely works. For Democrats at least, caucusing remains a practice of the committed. Byzantine rules and time-consuming procedures mean that in many precincts, casting a vote can take up to two hours.

During the last week, Mr. Obama staged a poll of sorts, asking those who attended his rallies to raise their hands if they were first-time caucusgoers and whether they remained committed. Right up to the end, both groups remained large, with undecided voters routinely making up a quarter of the audiences.

“I want to create a new electoral math,” Mr. Obama routinely told supporters. “I don’t want to practice division, I want to practice addition.”

Unlike Mrs. Clinton and especially Mr. Edwards, Mr. Obama cast himself as the candidate most equipped to end Washington gridlock. It was a positive message, underscored by the word “hope,” a word that carried an almost talismanic quality in the Obama campaign.

“I’ve noticed that some of the other candidates are almost scornful of the word, the implication being that if you’re hopeful you must be naïve,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s not what hope is. Hope is not ignoring the challenges ahead. Hope is working for and fighting for what seemed impossible before.”

Mr. Obama also clearly benefited from a scattering of Republicans who caucused for him, drawn to his relatively moderate stances on foreign affairs, his vow to push through health-care reform and the fact that he wasn’t Hillary Clinton. Those included Republicans such as Robb Spearman, a Des Moines real-estate broker, who said even Mr. Obama’s drug use didn’t faze him. “He’s 46 years old,” Mr. Spearman said. “Who at that age hasn’t done something like that in his past?”

Though an uneven public speaker, Mr. Obama seemed to get his rhetorical sea legs in the final sprint, even as his speeches grew exponentially in length. In the last few days, he spoke for more than an hour at each of his events. Often quick with a quip, the man who described himself as “a skinny guy with a funny name” maintained a self-deprecating style that clearly delighted many of his supporters.

Though the length of Mr. Obama’s speeches sent eyes rolling among reporters and even some of his staff, many in the crowd didn’t seem to care. “I can’t believe he can talk so long — but he does have a lot to say,” said Sharon Danielson, a committed Obama voter who saw him a day before the caucuses. “He’s so spellbinding. And it’s so hopeful that you want to believe.”

Mr. Obama also benefited by running against Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Edwards, who were perceived by many voters to be battlers. Though the race in Iowa witnessed all three candidates trading shots at each other, Mr. Obama chose his fighting words well, making sure not to damage his reputation as a conciliator, even as he often had to defend himself. “Barack can fight but he just wants to do it more harmoniously,” said Stephanie Schwortz, of Fairfield, who saw Mr. Obama the day before in Cedar Rapids. Ms. Schwortz said she began the campaign season assuming she would vote for Mrs. Clinton. “But I think people want someone who’s genuine,” she said.

– Christopher Cooper
* * *
HILLARY CLINTON GOT HER TOUGHEST QUESTION OF THE DAY from a teenage boy on the last stop of a long day last month.

“A lot of people for some reason just don’t like you,” he said, standing in front of a packed audience of 400 people in Coralville. He asked the New York senator how she thought she could get over this in a general election, and added one restriction: “without saying they should get to know you, because I think they know you.”

Rather than laughing off the question and turning on the charm, Mrs. Clinton responded defensively. “No they don’t [know me], but that’s okay, they don’t want to know me.”

Mrs. Clinton’s quest for likeability has been a campaign theme from the get-go. Some voters in Iowa and elsewhere say the senator, heavy on policy and credentials, can come off as cold. It’s this perception that contributed to her loss tonight to the charismatic Illinois Sen. Barack Obama.

The well-oiled Clinton campaign tried its hardest to turn this image around, launching a new ad campaign called “The Hillary I Know,” in which long-term friends and constituents tell personal stories about how the New York Senator touched their lives. Other efforts included bussing over 20 of Mrs. Clinton’s childhood friends around the state to go door-to-door talking about their friend. Mrs. Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea had her friends who have known the Clinton family for years, also campaign here on her mother’s behalf.

But the efforts fell flat and ultimately some voters were still left with a cold impression of the candidate. As Rob Moyers stood in line to caucus at the Lovejoy Elementary School here, Ms. Clinton came through to greet voters. After she shook hands with Mr. Moyers he said, “I looked into Obama’s eyes and he seemed sincere. Now, that looked mechanical. She’s like a robot.”

Jennifer Leslie, 34 and a John Edwards supporter in Knoxville, says she agrees with most of Mrs. Clinton’s policies on education and health care but doesn’t think she could win a general election.

Nevertheless, the mood was upbeat and hopeful at the Clinton rally tonight at the Hotel Fort Des Moines, where supporters packed a tight ballroom and waved Clinton signs with her “Ready for Change” slogan.

“We’re gong to take this enthusiasm and go straight to New Hampshire,” Mrs. Clinton said, feeding on the crowd’s energy. She congratulated Sen. Obama and Sen. Edwards and said she is “both confident and optimistic, both about the campaign but more so about our country.”

Campaign staff knew Iowa would be a hard state to win since Bill Clinton never campaigned here and the state borders Illinois, Mr. Obama’s home state. Early on campaign advisors told Mrs. Clinton to skip Iowa all together.

Noah Mamet, 38 and the owner of a consulting company in Los Angeles, has been going door-to-door in the freezing Iowa winter trying to drum up support for Mrs. Clinton. He was unfazed by the results tonight. “It’s not fatal,” Mr. Mamet says, “We’ll battle it out another day.”

-Amy Chozick

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