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The Final Spectacle

By Dan Balz
AMES, Iowa - The New Year began with a rush here in Iowa. While the rest of the country woke up late with an eye on their television sets and all the bowl games (Go, Illini!), Iowans were out in big numbers well before noon to see the presidential candidates.

Hillary Clinton drew an overflow crowd at a hotel on the outskirts of Ames and was very much on her game. John Edwards, kicking off a 36-hour marathon of campaigning, had a packed house 10 minutes away from Clinton on the campus of Iowa State University to hear his populist message. Barack Obama began his day in Des Moines with a fired-up-ready-to-go rally that drew close to 1,000 people.

Clinton's concluding statement gave a sense of what all the candidates believe is at stake in two days. "This is the most important caucus that I think we've had in American as long as I can remember," she said.

A week ago, as I returned to Iowa after Christmas, I wrote that one big question all the campaigns were asking themselves was whether Iowans would be distracted by the holidays or paying attention to the closing arguments of the candidates.

That question was answered emphatically on the first day back and every day since. Certainly on the Democratic side, the crowds have been big, enthusiastic and energized -- as they have been for a year. Every candidate is knocked out by the size of the audiences they're seeing -- and each takes that as a sign that momentum is on their side.

"I don't need a poll to tell me we're moving and we're moving in the right way," Edwards said here in Ames.

What all this suggests is that turnout at the Democratic caucuses on Thursday night will be big -- but the million dollar question is just how big. And the inability of anyone to predict that with real accuracy makes the closing hours all the more uncertain.

Downtown Des Moines was packed last night with campaign staffers, volunteers, reporters and others and the talk and buzz was all about the final Iowa Poll from the Des Moines Register.

Historically, the Iowa Poll has been the gold standard in measuring sentiment before the caucuses. Which is why the final numbers on both sides -- but particularly the Democratic race -- created a stir. The poll showed Obama leading with 32 percent, followed by Clinton at 25 and Edwards at 24.

The results did not square with what all the campaigns had been peddling to reporters for days or what the campaign events for the candidates suggested - that the race was too close to call and could go any which way on Thursday night.

Advisers to Edwards and Clinton quickly sought to challenge the poll's methodology, particularly the percentage of independents projected to attend the caucuses. The Clinton camp in particular argued that the turnout model used by the Register was faulty. Obama's advisers, after displaying signs of nervousness for several days, seized on the results and emailed them out to supporters within hours of their release.

The issue is not unimportant. Clinton was leading Obama among Democrats, 33 percent to 27 percent, with Edwards at 25 percent. But Obama had a huge lead, 39 percent to Clinton's 15 percent, with Edwards at 24 percent. A huge influx of independents clearly favors Obama.

Among older voters, Clinton led with Edwards second and Obama father back in third. Historically older voters dominate the caucuses. If that proves the case again this year, Obama's chances are diminished.

By this morning, two other polls had been released showing a much different race. A CNN/Opinion Research poll showed a dead heat between Clinton and Obama with Edwards trailing. A Zogby poll showed Clinton with a narrow lead and Obama and Edwards in a virtual tie.

By noon they were all a distant memory.

The campaign's scrum over the polls was predictable. Perception can become reality. It can shape what undecided voters see and hear through the media in the final hours of a tough campaign, which can translate into momentum-driven decision-making by undecided voters.

There are reasons to be skeptical of all the polls right now. And the reality is that the campaign is moving so swiftly here right now that last night's poll or this morning's polls are quickly pushed to the background, overtaken by the intensity of the candidate's schedules and the grindingly efficient get-out-the-vote operations that are beginning to kick in campaign offices across the state.

Edwards advisers report that, in their nightly calls, half of the undecided voters are breaking their way, with the rest splitting slightly more for Clinton than Obama. The Obama campaign believes that a big turnout on Thursday would turn those Register numbers into reality.

Clinton's campaign has sampled and modeled the potential electorate to the point that they have begun to knock off their calculations voters who say they support Clinton but who the campaign doubts will actually show up on Thursday night.

The candidates are now in their own grooves. Edwards is so focused on his anti-corporate message that when he got a question asking whether he would consider including Colin Powell in his administration, he hesitated and asked, "Did you say Colin Powell or coal and power?"

These last hours in Iowa belong to the candidates and to the voters - not the pollsters or the media. While the rest of the country enjoys football, the candidates and the voters of Iowa will revel in their own spectacle. And what a spectacle it has become.

By Web Politics Editor  |  January 1, 2008; 4:06 PM ET
Categories:  Dan Balz's Take  
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Comments

Joy,

So unintelligible was this registered democratic's diatribe that it left the deluded democrat lemmings panties in a bunch.

Don't you just hate it when you are powerless over the facts? You cannot handle the fact that someone who voted straight democratic for 16 years is calling you what you are. Tell me , what make you think there is something democrat-ic about the criminal democrat traitorous frauds?

Poor pathetic democrats can't stand the fact that I love my Country and as An American I never called myself a democrat. What does an avid democrat do ? Spew democrat lies and propaganda for free and louder that the next? More like an avid fool or turd polisher. Oh and by the way no one needs to listen to those conservative people you hate so much to know you democrats are lying traitorous fools. Listening to your hate and betrayal of this Country from your own mouths speaks for itself. You can never take it back. Hate yourself for it, not those you were caught trying to steal the 2000 election from, YOU.

Posted by: RobLACa | January 2, 2008 6:44 PM | Report abuse

Rob: your name should be Rob La Ca-Ca.

Posted by: Spectator2 | January 2, 2008 4:23 PM | Report abuse

What all this means is that to continue to have Iowa have the clout it does is absolutely ludicris.

I don't care who wins the causcuses they are not representative of the nation or the electorate. When less than 10% of the voters even eligible to vote in Iowa even bother to come out- when some people can't participate becasue they can't get a baby sitter or have to work- when people need to publicly state their preferences and it's not a secret ballot- it is all too stupid.

I only hope that whoever wins the nomination in both parties and selects the next leaders of the DNC and RNC that they will tell those individuals to tell Iowa that this was the last time we will ask candidates to waste their time and money there.

It is unfair to the rest of the nation and it's time to tell Iowans if they want to continue to use caucuses they should do so for their state candidates but the country will no longer be held hostage to this anachronism.

I have heard some of the stupidest comments ever from the people in Iowa who claim after all the money spent on them that they can't make up their minds. It calls into question- What minds?

Each of these candidates has developed detailed policy papers available for everyone to read. Well take the time to read them if you are sincerely such a concerned voter as you claim to be. Take the time to compare the details and match them to what you think should be done if you really think about these things or understand them.

But forcing candidates to take a picture with your prize cow at the county fair, and then saying they seemed so nice, or seemed so cold, and that's how you decided to vote is really sickening when watched from the outside.

The issues that people in this nation and around the world face are really to critical to make decisions this way in 2008.

Posted by: peterdc | January 2, 2008 1:06 PM | Report abuse

noun

Posted by: joy2 | January 2, 2008 8:58 AM | Report abuse

RobLACa ended his unintelligible diatribe with the statement: "Oh and before you start lying and spewing your hate I self informed myself."

I figured that. But, I can always tell a Limbaugh (or other right-wing-ranter) listener by the fact that he doesn't know the difference between an adjective (democrat-IC) and a noune (democrat).

Won't will be wonderful to have a president (OBAMA) who can actually speak in full sentences, paragraphs even!


Posted by: joy2 | January 2, 2008 8:57 AM | Report abuse

Barack Obama is about to win Iowa !

Good for you Iowa !

Good for America !

Posted by: PulSamsara | January 2, 2008 8:52 AM | Report abuse

Besides, it will be a pleasure to take a shot at the traditional elite, which includes both Clinton and Edwards. Clinton is getting way too comfortable in her rather formidable base of support and fame. I doubt she'd be able to enforce change in America. Furthermore, I'm not sure she has a strong will in protecting American interests in these turbulent times.

In the case of Edwards.... He does say that he will implement fundamental changes to hamper corporate interests which are supposedly destroying America. I fear that he is too anti-corporation. Although such corporate interests can be against the will of the general American population, it is ultimately the corporations that provide jobs to the American people. Corporates are at worst, necessary evils in life, and America's economy has been stumbling for the past few years. Even were Edwards to be elected president, I doubt he would be able to gain passive consent from America's conservatives. Edwards speaks with too much conviction and seems to be convinced that he is correct in... well, everything.

That is why I would vote for Obama.

Posted by: kminsang | January 2, 2008 6:50 AM | Report abuse

Obama's the man for America. I'm not so certain his economic policies will work in bringing the American economy back on its feet (especially with the humongous fu$$ up called Iraq), but the rest are sound. Why should America be the world's police? Why should the already filthy rich folks get even more money - that they don't spend? I also like his background because he has lived in the society of both the poor and the rich. Simply put, he can relate to both sides of the same story. If only he plays his cards well, he could be the second Lincoln and bring harmony to America... after undergoing change no other candidates are courageous enough to implement.

Posted by: kminsang | January 2, 2008 6:31 AM | Report abuse

I returned from Iowa two weeks ago. I went to work for Obama. In my work, I talked w/ a Republican and he told me, "If you can get Obama nominated, I'll vote for him." Obama has wide cross-over appeal, based on my conversations w/ hundreds of Iowans.

Posted by: robear | January 2, 2008 6:18 AM | Report abuse

Rob, don't you just hate when your blind conservative spewing is calmly repudiated?

The part of Soaringeagle's comment you quoted was not partisan. You obfuscated a whole mountain out of one insightful, axiomatic molehill. Well done. I see the neocon kool-aid is still potent.

Journalists themselves might be bleeding heart liberals, yes, but the "democrat media" at which you spew is only as liberal as the massive conglomerate corporations that own them. Which is to say, they're actually quite conservative. They donate far more $$ to Republicans. Open your eyes.

Really now, your "democrats aren't American" rhetoric is as boring and tired as it is disgusting. No Democrat would give you money or hold a gun to your head to make you vote Democrat. They don't play dirty like that.

By the way, you conveniently "forgot" the other wholly valid definition of "avid": characterized by enthusiasm and vigorous pursuit. To be an avid Democrat is to be an enthusiastic one. Typical Republican half-truths. Very glad you "self informed yourself," but please follow your own party's rhetoric: come to this country, LEARN THE LANGUAGE.

Posted by: nyu_shen | January 2, 2008 3:39 AM | Report abuse

What's up yesiammike? Hillary is a very good democrat. Watch her on the senate floor. She spends a lot of time researching democratic issues and adds a lot of value to the senate. Obama and edwards and biden and hillary and the others are great choices, this year is going to be one of the most important years for the Supreme Court. If Hillary wins the nomination, and she may not, but if she does, she would be a very good democratic president, appointing some very good justices. Don't forget that the court is very conservative right now and one justice away from having no problem with overturning roe v wade. Give her a chance and don't buy into all the hil hate. she's got a good record, and she may not be perfect, but she's a very good democrat. :). (disclosure: my top choices are biden, hillary and edwards)

Posted by: jessi_lc | January 2, 2008 2:48 AM | Report abuse

The Democrats have six amazing candidates who can govern with ease. Anything after Bush will look like a cakewalk. These six candidates know more about the common man and what Americans need now. The silly campaign coverage belittles the major hurdles this country faces in undoing the damage down by these Republican crooks and moralizers. It's going to be a great day in the history of this countrey when a Democrat takes the oath of office in January 2009. The Republicans are totally demoralized about any changes to maintain any sense of dignity once the results pour in.

Posted by: georgiaguy | January 2, 2008 2:00 AM | Report abuse

OK, I have one person too many refer to the Happa Haole, as a Black man!

He is, almost EXACTLY what someone named Barack Hussein Obama is! The Region between the Caucasus Mountains, and Africa, is FULL of them. They are, a blend of Caucasians, and Africans, we refer to as Middle Eastern-probably even more accurately, as Arab! And there is NO shortage of them!

LOL! If Osama bin Lying was on a court playing Basketball, he would be accused of being a Black player easily!

Sooo, am I to assume Arabs are Blacks?-Might be news to most of them!

Posted by: rat-the | January 2, 2008 1:31 AM | Report abuse

Obama wants to be the president,so he can prove a black man can do it. He wants power and prestige, that is all. HRC wants to be the president,so she can solve problems for us. She has already known power can corrupt and prestige is only an empty word, she is tested. Take your pick.

Posted by: johnycheng1 | January 2, 2008 1:18 AM | Report abuse

Don't you just hate it when the criminal democrat party's perpetual fraud is three lanes wide?

Soaringeagle wrote:

"I watched a program on TV that was talking about how consultants and ad makers define candidates for the electorate. This seeps into our consciousness......"

So you are somewhat aware of the democrat perpetual fraud and still yet you write:

"That, I think, is what democracy is about."

"It's time we start examining our prejudices, and see if we really believe many of the things we say about these candidates."

Replace "candidates" with President Bush. I'd like to see if democrats are capable of "TRUE HONESTY".

What do you say devin?

"Despite the WP and the Mainstream Media doing every thing they can to trumpet Barak Obama..."

How about that liberal bias or is it democrat bias? Or better yet , why don't you just admit what is becoming more and more clear to Americans? The democrat Media is a perpetual fraud, you cleary see it. Or are you like this next guy....avid?

"This is not a shocker to me. Hillary Clinton is not authentic, and as an avid Democrat, I will NEVER vote for Hillary."

Really? should she be the Nominee?

Avid:

Having a strong urge to obtain or possess something, especially material wealth.
IN BRIEF: Excessively eager or greedy.

Bottom line is you are democrats not Americans.

As an avid American though ignorant for many years being Registered democratic , I WILL NOT under any circumstances nor any amount of money vote for a democrat. Not even a gun to my head would get me to betray my Country and vote for a democrat.

Oh and before you start lying and spewing your hate I self informed myself.

Posted by: RobLACa | January 2, 2008 1:03 AM | Report abuse

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/docs/SV_IA_Jan0208.html

According to Strategic Vision, the most recent poll, "Edwards might be able to eke out a win" via superior organization.

Posted by: river845 | January 2, 2008 12:47 AM | Report abuse

"Edwards is so focused on his anti-corporate message that when he got a question asking whether he would consider including Colin Powell in his administration, he hesitated and asked, "Did you say Colin Powell or coal and power?""

Is there any actual event that Dan Balz can't cite to type whatever it is he planned to say anyway?

Posted by: zukermand | January 2, 2008 12:28 AM | Report abuse

Wow. "The Final Spectacle". Not pretentious at all! I made fun of Dan Balz here:

http://lonewacko.com/blog/archives/006910.html

Nothing about that mockery of the hack is unfair in the least.

Posted by: LonewackoDotCom | January 2, 2008 12:28 AM | Report abuse

devin, what about this new poll from strategic vision?

Barack Obama

32%

John Edwards

29%

Hillary Clinton

27%

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/docs/SV_IA_Jan0208.html

Posted by: mneuner | January 1, 2008 11:37 PM | Report abuse

Despite the WP and the Mainstream Media doing every thing they can to trumpet Barak Obama...only one poll has him out in front, and even that poll isn't being taken seriously. The DMR poll is skewered and unrelaible, the CNN and Reuters Zogby poll are far better run, and both of those have Hillary winning. Face it Obamaites, despite your best efforts, and the help of ever major media outlet...Hillary will be the nominee, and thank god. Now we will actually win the WH back in November

Posted by: devin79 | January 1, 2008 10:39 PM | Report abuse

I watched a program on TV that was talking about how consultants and ad makers define candidates for the electorate. This seeps into our consciousness subliminally. And, soon we are believing the caricature of whichever person they want us to.It almost as if we have to vote against someone instead of for for someone.

Remember the Willy Horton and the Swift boat incidences? The Republicans have been much better at targeting our candidates. It's time we start examining our prejudices, and see if we really believe many of the things we say about these candidates.

If Democrats are so adept at beating up on each other, no matter who wins the primaries,the republicans will have a field day with the ammunition that we are giving them against our candidates with our mean spirited comments.

My chosen candidate is HRC and I am hoping she gets the nomination, however, if she does not, I will be happy to vote for the chosen nominee. That, I think, is what democracy is about. Happy New Year!

Posted by: LadyEagle | January 1, 2008 8:51 PM | Report abuse

This is not a shocker to me. Hillary Clinton is not authentic, and as an avid Democrat, I will NEVER vote for Hillary. Belittling the Des Moines register poll is childish and arrogant. Obama has crossover appeal with both Independents and Republicans; the Country is hungry for change and people of all ideologies are looking to Obama to implement that change. Hillary, Edwards, you think you are shocked now? Wait until Caucus night, you two will be crying yourselves to sleep in shock.

Posted by: yesiammike | January 1, 2008 8:34 PM | Report abuse

Hard to understand why the latest poll would be such a shock. Clinton has been trending downward for weeks, and she has not had momentum for even longer. Iif votes are moving towards Obama and/or Edwards, is it surprising to anyone?

The strategy of invincibility, experience and healthcare was a dud (and false).

Posted by: mdoconnell | January 1, 2008 7:47 PM | Report abuse

We know how Edwards loves to be angry and how Hillary can be so shrill. But I just want the two of them to calm down. This is just a poll. The real shocker will come on thursday when the results are as followed: Obama 42% Clinton 25% Edwards 22%.

OBAMA 08!

Posted by: lumi21us | January 1, 2008 7:44 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps WaPo crack political staff might sit down with J. Ann Selzer of Selzer & Co., the Des Moines based pollster who does the Register's polls and ask her to discuss, as she did today (1/1/08) with C-Span, the details of her poll. Then maybe everyone would stop pooh-poohing it.

I think the harsh reaction is not about polling methods, but that -- SHOCK and AWE -- Obama is in the lead. That does not fit the MSM's storyline. It was supposed to Hillary's cakewalk.

Everyone is suggesting that the turnout will be much higher this year, than years past. There is a strong field and this is a "change" election. 2004 was not. Based on her polling -- I believe it was 800 persons in each group Reps, Dems and Inds -- her polling showed independent breaking to Obama, a large number of them intending to caucus at Democratic sites, and a large number of first time caucus-goers. Her database was not based on random number dialing, but the latest roll of registered voters provided by the Iowa secretary of state, and was made up of persons who said they would either definitely or probably caucus (likely caucus-goers).

Posted by: jade_7243 | January 1, 2008 7:23 PM | Report abuse

Governor Romney accused President Bush today of mismanagement of the war. He should apoligize to Governor Huckabee for asking him to apoligize for the same thing. Governor Romney seems to be for all people by being for all things. Thanks.

Posted by: thomas.e.eudy | January 1, 2008 7:18 PM | Report abuse

You'd have to say the model of that Register poll was very odd. 200,000 attendees when last time it was 124,000 which was a record. Only just over half the voters at Democratic caucus actually democrats. 5% of attendees Republicans and 40% independants. Will there be any independants at the Republican caucus you have to ask. Basically it appears success for Obama is riding on independants, Republicans and a turn out 60% higher than last time. It all sounds a bit tenuous to me and suggests this is far from over.

Posted by: johnbsmrk | January 1, 2008 7:00 PM | Report abuse

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