Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Iowa and New Hampshire Really Do Matter

The Democrats want to dump Iowa altogether as an early state and push New Hampshire back after South Carolina. That Iowa part of that might work since the parties run the caucuses, but the New Hampshire part not might not because the primary dates are set by states. In any event, the Republicans are sticking with Iowa first and New Hampshire second. Is that actually important? Mark Mellman, a pollster and political consultant who has help elect 30 senators, 12 governors, and dozens of House members says it is.

Mellman notes that since 1976, when primaries began to pop up like worms after a good rain, every presidential nominee but two won either Iowa or New Hampshire. The first exception was in 1992, when favorite son Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) won Iowa, rendering it moot, while neighboring son Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-MA) won New Hampshire. But Bill Clinton came in second in New Hampshire and ultimately won the Democratic nomination. Joe Biden was the second exception. In 2020, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) won New Hampshire, and someone not named Biden won in Iowa (either Sanders or Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, we still don't know). In other years, failure to win at least one of the two meant you were roadkill.

Here's how it works. In 1976, the then-unknown Jimmy Carter was polling at 4% nationally and the pros said he was wasting his time as no peanut farmer had ever been elected president in all of history. After winning both early states, his poll level tripled and he was big news. In 2004, John Kerry picked up 20 points after winning Iowa and 13 more points after winning New Hampshire. From then on, he was unstoppable. The reason this happens is that the media makes winning these two small and relatively unimportant states the beginning and end of the universe. They could say: "Who cares about these two tiny and unrepresentative states? Let's wait for a major state to vote." But they don't." That's the rub. The momentum from these little states also propelled George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump to their respective nominations. Is it fair? No. Is it logical? Also no. But half of the entire primary press coverage goes to these two states and the winners are on the front page of every paper from The New York Times to the East Cupcake Middle School Reporter. Giving these little states so much power makes little sense, but that's how it is.

What the first two states also do is separate the sheep from the goats. Candidates who come in fourth or fifth or lower in both are written off as dead meat by the media. Then polls drop and donations stop. It's hard to recover from that.

So what about 2024? If Joe Biden decides to run, we here boldly predict that he will beat Marianne Williamson and the media will write her off until she announces her 2028 run. What about the red team? Right now, Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) dominate polling in both states. Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH) can't even crack 10% in his own state. We don't put a lot of faith in whether Trump or DeSantis is ahead, since DeSantis isn't even a declared candidate yet and Trump has not been indicted yet. But after DeSantis declares and Trump is likely indicted in New York and Georgia, things could change fast. On the other hand, in both early states, retail campaigning is really, really important. The voters want to meet the candidates in person and size them up. Trump is good at that but DeSantis is very wooden. His advisers have surely warned him about that, but changing your personality isn't that easy, even if you know you have to and are highly motivated to do it. If Mellman is right, then if Trump and DeSantis finish one-two, in either order, in both early states, then the rest of the field is doomed and it will be a cage match between those two going forward. (V)

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