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Iowa: Winners and Losers

Kerry, Edwards, Dean, charm, organization, and more.

12:00 AM, Jan 20, 2004 • By FRED BARNES
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Des Moines

HOWARD DEAN was a loser and you could tell. In his speech after finishing third in the Democratic presidential caucuses in Iowa, he acted like a madman--screaming, snarling, and shouting out the names of the states in which he intends to compete. Dick Gephardt, a classier guy, went home to St. Louis after pulling out of the race on the heels of his sad fourth-place showing here. The winners in Iowa, John Kerry, the new frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, and John Edwards, now an A-list candidate and a press favorite, couldn't wait to get to New Hampshire to campaign for its January27 primary.

There were less visible but important winners and losers in Iowa and here are some of them:

Winner: The war in Iraq. The capture of Saddam Hussein changed everything. It caused the war issue to fade so much that while 75 percent of Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa disapprove of the invasion of Iraq, the vast majority of them actually voted for a candidate who has supported the war. On the other hand, Dean's candidacy is based on opposition to the war and he lost overwhelmingly. Bottom line: The war isn't issue #1anymore.

Loser: George W. Bush. The president would love to run against Dean. That's still possible, but less likely now. Instead, Bush probably will face a Democrat, Kerry or Edwards, who voted for the war resolution and would raise taxes on the wealthiest few million taxpayers but not on the middle class--making him less politically vulnerable. Bush has delayed starting his campaign, but he may have to jump in soon now.

Winner: Crowds. The press played up endorsements of Dean by Al Gore, Bill Bradley, and Iowa senator Tom Harkin, and the near-endorsement by Jimmy Carter. These were supposed to signify Dean's momentum and cinch his victory. Bu Dean's crowds in Iowa were far smaller than Kerry's or Edwards's. Crowds, not endorsements, mattered. The entrance poll in Iowa found that less than one percent of voters cared about endorsements.

Loser: Harkin. He put his prestige on the line for Dean. He campaigned vigorously for Dean. At rallies, he spoke longer than Dean. But his endorsement had no impact, no legs. His clout turned out to be a myth.

Winner: Washington insiders. Right up to caucus day, Dean was denouncing his Democratic foes as that worst of political types, Washingtonians with sinister influence. This attack line did not resonate.

Loser: Deaniacs. The streets of Des Moines and other Iowa cities and towns were filled with young Dean backers, thousands of them, waving placards at motorists and pedestrians. Dean had nothing better for them to do. Many of them won't bother to show up in New Hampshire.

Winner: Michael Whouley. He's the near legendary field organizer who was summoned by Kerry weeks ago to straighten out his campaign in Iowa. He succeeded where others had failed. Whouley, by the way, organized Florida for Gore in 2000, turning a Republican-leaning state into the most competitive in the nation.

Loser: Unions. Iowa is not a big-time labor state, but unions can influence the outcome of a Democratic race if they agree to back a single candidate. This time, they divided their support between Dean and Gephardt. And only 25 percent of caucus voters were affiliated with unions, which won't be taken as seriously anymore.

Winner: Nice. The only thing warm about Dean is his sweater. He is not a charmer. Edwards cleverly positioned himself as the nice-guy candidate, stressing hope and uplift, and Kerry was a close second in the charm category. Likeability paid off for both of them.

Loser: Organization. Once upon a time, organization was the sine qua non of winning the caucus. No more. Dean had what David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register called the best organization ever in the presidential caucuses. Gephardt said his organization was better than the one he built in 1988, when he won the Democratic caucuses. Didn't matter. Enthusiasm trumped organization.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.