Saturday, November 17, 2007

"New Report: Edwards On Top In Iowa?"

Iowa Independent and HuffPost's OffTheBus:
As the January 3 Iowa caucuses draw near, media outlets across the country will continue to buzz about new poll numbers and analyses from the Hawkeye state. Although they will not always be so careful to mention this, at Iowa Independent we feel it is important to emphasize how difficult it is to predict caucus results.
No poll is definitive, nor is any one columnist or pundit. Determining which Iowans will show up to participate in a caucus on a wintry January night -- one which, this year, will be only days after New Year's -- is nearly impossible. And pollsters find it difficult to include second choice support -- a very significant factor in caucus results -- in their horse race numbers at all.

I have compiled the first installment of what we are calling the "Iowa Independent Power Rankings" below. They attempt to answer the very narrow question, "If the caucuses were held tonight, what would be the results?"

Campaigns were evaluated based on impressions we received from activists, everyday caucus-goers, event attendees, and pundits about the quality of each campaign's on-the-ground organization, the likelihood of each candidate's supporters actually attending a caucus, second choice support, and -- at the most basic level -- gut feelings and guesses. We provide no guarantee that these results are accurate, but we hope that while our readers are looking at poll numbers and spin from day to day, they will keep these rankings in mind as another worthwhile point of reference.

Next week, we will turn our attention to the Republican race.

If the Democratic caucuses were held tonight, this is how we think they would end:

1. John Edwards -- Edwards started about a year ago with the best organization in Iowa, and most of the foundation he built here is still in place. Although concerns persist that his sharpening rhetoric may be alienating a few of his earliest supporters, his solid performance at the Jefferson Jackson dinner, his endorsement from Caucus 4 Priorities (and the potential 10,000 caucus-goers it could bring him), and his ongoing commitment to retail politicking keep him in the top spot -- for now.

2. Barack Obama -- Obama's organization was fairly inconsistent over the summer, with some counties getting a lot of attention and others getting barely any. Still, his campaign's ability to build crowds -- as evidenced by his huge and geographically diverse group of supporters at the Jefferson Jackson dinner -- are as good a measure of his strength as anything. And as Clinton continues to receive sharper attacks from Edwards and subtler attacks from Obama himself, the Illinois Senator could move up in the coming weeks -- particularly on news of his United Auto Workers endorsement. As things stand now, he would still place second behind Edwards.

3. Hillary Clinton -- Different sources tell vastly different stories about the Clinton campaign in Iowa. Some expect it to flop completely, but others point to poll numbers showing Clinton in the top spot among Democratic candidates in Iowa. All that said, her aura of inevitability has been all but shattered by increased criticism over the past few weeks, and she seems to lack significant second choice support. And her latest swing through Iowa highlighted her energy policy, something which may not resonate among working class women, which continues to be her key demographic. Frankly, although the polls show Clinton in first place in Iowa, many of us have been hard pressed to find solid Clinton supporters whose names have not already appeared on a campaign press release.

4. Joe Biden -- Biden's campaign only picked up steam during the late Fall, but one could be led to believe that he planned it that way all along. His list of legislative endorsements (including many in the Democratic leadership) is his greatest strength, because it lends him credibility that others in the so-called second tier do not have. The current situation in Pakistan highlights his foreign policy expertise, which allows him to continue to take ground from Gov. Bill Richardson. And his support comes largely from older Iowans, who are more likely to attend Caucuses than any other group.

5. Bill Richardson -- Richardson's campaign may have peaked too early, when its tongue-in-cheek TV commercials bumped his poll numbers into the double digits during the early summer. Since then, he has shown little positive movement in polls. His campaign events are known to be wildly inconsistent: some speeches and events are excellent, and others are lackluster at best. But his field operation appears to be solid in certain key precincts, where staff have been on the ground since early summer.

6. Chris Dodd -- Everyone who has attended a Dodd event or met the Connecticut Senator personally seems to like him, but few seem to have committed to him so far. While his International Association of Fire Fighters endorsement continues to be a major X-factor, he has attracted very few Iowa endorsements from activists and politicos outside the IAFF. One gets the sense that Dodd has very strong second choice support from activists who have signed on to one of the top three candidates' campaigns, but he needs to persuade more of those caucus-goers to put him at the top of their lists. The campaign shows real potential with its talented staff and a candidate who is so committed to Iowa retail politics that he has moved his family here through January, but if the caucuses were held today, they would not go his way.

7. Dennis Kucinich -- Although Kucinich may have a small number of hold-outs from his 2004 campaign, the vast majority of his past supporters appear to have migrated elsewhere, because Kucinich has spent such little time and money on the ground here.

8. Mike Gravel

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