The Chicago Sun-Times asks whether Hillary Clinton is running scared in Iowa. Noting the same poll that I did showing Obama very slightly ahead in Iowa, the paper reports that there are signs that the Clinton campaign is becoming worried.
Is Hillary running scared in Iowa? The latest poll from the Washington Post and ABC News shows Barack Obama ahead in the Hawkeye State, slightly in the lead with 30 percent to Hillary Clinton's 26 percent. Although this is statistically a tie — it has been a horse race among Obama, Clinton and John Edwards for the last few months — it is the first poll in months actually showing Obama in the lead.
And Hillary Clinton must be worried.
Over the last few weeks, the New York senator has beefed up her Iowa field staff and opened new offices. She now has 34 offices, compared with Obama's 35.
The difference is Obama started his campaign in Iowa right off the bat, renting dozens of locales for offices and making sure his field workers developed strong relations with the residents in towns and cities across the state. That's the key in this first caucus state, cultivating caucus-goers, making a personal pitch and getting them to sign a support card.
And it was something Edwards understood as the former North Carolina senator started campaigning almost right after the 2004 race, which he and presidential running mate John Kerry lost. Edwards subsequently spent a lot of time in Iowa, visiting all 99 counties. He has been in the cornfield state more than any other candidate, a total of 61 days.
Obama has visited Iowa 33 times; Hillary Clinton has taken 27 trips there, but as Drake University political science Professor Dennis Goldford notes, she already had name recognition. (Goldford is an expert in Iowa caucuses.)
The caucus system is rather different from what most states use, the straightforward primary. Wikipedia describes it thusly:
Participants indicate their support for a particular candidate by standing in a designated area of the caucus site (forming a "preference group"). An area may also be designated for undecided participants. Then, for roughly 30 minutes, participants try to convince their neighbors to support their candidates. Each preference group might informally deputize a few members to recruit supporters from the other groups and, in particular, from among those undecided. Undecided participants might visit each preference group to ask its members about their candidate.
After 30 minutes, the electioneering is temporarily halted and the supporters for each candidate are counted. At this point, the caucus officials determine which candidates are "viable". Depending on the number of county delegates to be elected, the "viability threshold" can be anywhere from 15% to 25% of attendees. For a candidate to receive any delegates from a particular precinct, he or she must have the support of at least that many caucus participants in that precinct. Once viability is determined, participants have roughly another 30 minutes to "realign": the supporters of inviable candidates may find a viable candidate to support, join together with supporters of another inviable candidate to secure a delegate for one of the two, or choose to abstain. This "realignment" is a crucial distinction of caucuses in that (unlike a primary) being a voter's "second candidate of choice" can help you.
Sort of reminds you of a game of musical chairs, doesn't it? Obviously, in such a process, organization matters a lot. This is where Obama actually got it right and Hillary may have been overconfident. That would explain the sudden scramble on the part of the Clinton campaign to rectify the situation.