With all pundits’ attention riveted to the Iowa Caucus, the first real electoral event in the 2016 election cycle, it is worthwhile to step back and peruse what in vague terms the first month of the primaries and caucuses is going to involve. For more information on the general process involved, check out Spark!‘s Primer on the Primaries. Note that with one exception, all of the events below allot delegates by proportionate representation, so multiple candidates can (and will) come out of them with delegates to the conventions.
Timeline of events for the first month (Feb 1 – March 1):
Monday, Feb 1: Iowa Caucus (both parties)
Tuesday, Feb 9: New Hampshire Primary (both parties)
Saturday, Feb 20: Nevada Democratic Caucus (closed to GOP)
– also, South Carolina Republican Primary (open to all voters; and “winner takes all”)
Tuesday, Feb 23: Nevada Republican Caucus (closed to Democrats)
Saturday, Feb 27: South Carolina Democratic Primary (open)
Then (wait for it): Tuesday, March 1, Super Tuesday: 10 states will have primaries or caucuses for both parties simultaneously (AL, AR, GA, MA, MN, OK, TN, TX, VT, and VA); plus 6 more single-party primaries and caucuses (American Samoa D, Alaska R, Colorado D, Democrats abroad, North Dakota R, Wyoming R).
More events obviously will happen in March after Super Tuesday. We have another article describing the second round of primaries (up through March 15, and including further discussion of Super Tuesday). Spark! will bring you further updates as we get closer.
While Iowa is an exciting event for politicians, pundits, and anyone following electoral politics, it is nothing more than the symbolic beginning of the election cycle. Only three candidates have ever gone from winning their party’s Iowa caucus to gaining the presidency in the same year: Jimmy Carter in 1976 (who only had 27% of the Iowa Democrats in 1976; there were 37% “uncommitted” that year), George W. Bush in 2000, and Barack Obama in 2008. Many candidates have emerged from Iowa in strength and were never heard from again; whereas the opposite has also been common. Bill Clinton, for example, seized a massive 2.8% of the Iowa Democratic Caucus in 1992 (losing overwhelmingly to Tom Harkin’s 76%; remember him? Yep, thought so). Clinton went on to win both the nomination and the presidency. Iowa is therefore not a predictable indicator of who will win in the end.
However, as the first electoral event, Iowa provides the opportunity and time for candidates to prepare offices, staffs, and support; and to get their message out. It is a battle for a strong “out of the gate” position in the horse race to the nomination. The results of Iowa are merely the bell clang of that race. After Iowa, candidates have relatively short periods of time in which to prepare for state primaries and caucuses; and then Super Tuesday comes along, and the campaigns have to battle it out in multiple states simultaneously. On Super Tuesday, they triage their resources as best they can, to win those states considered to be both in contest and winnable (as well as losable). After Iowa, there is little chance for candidates and campaigns to take a breath. Ultimately, therefore, what Iowa represents is not so much the strongest candidates or campaigns, or the ultimate likely victors; but rather just the beginning of the real test for how the candidates have prepared for the four month slug-fest of the primaries phase of the nomination process.
As you prepare for and then watch the Iowa caucus and its results, remember the British wartime advice: Keep Calm, and Carry On. This is just step one, of a long and complex process.
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