Alan Greenblatt is a GOVERNING correspondent.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Obama looks like a winner. His big Iowa victory will remove lingering doubts from many minds about whether he is for real, whether people will actually turn out and vote for this media phenomenon. Most importantly, it establishes him firmly as the anti-Clinton candidate, which is a slot well worth having.
Edwards is done. He has spent years of his life in Iowa and couldn't bring it home. Second place there won't help him any more than it did four years ago. He'll trail in New Hampshire and then call it a day after losing South Carolina -- the only state he carried in 2004. The Great White Male Hope is finished.
Which leaves the other two. Surely the Iowa win will push Obama over the top in New Hampshire, turning his tepid poll-lead into a solid victory. Where will that leave Clinton?
Let me tell you something you don't know. She was overconfident and ran a general election campaign before the primaries had ever started. She has the classic fault of the frontrunner, which is that her support is a mile-wide but only an inch or two deep. She has yet to articulate a reason that she should be president, other than that she's "ready."
I notice that most of the media accounts have swallowed this experience matters line of hers -- as though seven years in the Senate is really so much more substantial than Obama's three, as though any first lady, even one so famous and controversial, has received not just fame but gravitas through close proximity to power. Where are the way more experienced Biden and Dodd today?
Clinton's ace -- her historic role as the first viable female candidate for the White House -- has been trumped by Obama's equally historic skin color. The entrance poll yesterday suggested that Obama beat Hillary among women.
(He also did better than expected among young people, in getting them actually to turn out. The two groups who have broken most strongly to the Democrats in the last few years are Hispanics and the young, who had been trending Republican since Reagan. Both these constituencies are notorious non-voters. If they do come out, that will be the most important political trend of the year.)
Clinton has learned that Democratic voters want "change," but continues to emphasize, even last night in defeat, that she will be ready to lead from Day One. What she doesn't realize is that, for these voters, Day One doesn't matter. If a Democrat wins in November, the party faithful will feel nothing but jubilation and a sense of joy that Bush will be gone. The winner will get a long honeymoon.
But probably not before some real jitters set in. Democrats are Nervous Nellies. They will not believe that their candidate can prevail in November, even though all the early signs suggest that this should be their year. Surely with an unproven candidate like Obama, there will be some of the type of doubt that Clinton seeks to foster, that he lacks experience and the right stuff. That's another reason why Obama's looking like a winner and momentum will be so important to him.
Democrats don't hate America -- they hate themselves. They don't believe that they can be winners and -- admittedly based on long experience -- believe their party will find a way to blow it. They believe in conspiracies. Already this morning I had neighbors talk about how Diebold would somehow foil Obama's chances and that Clinton planned her own defeat in Iowa, to let Obama have his day and make sure that buyer's remorse set in. You can't make this stuff up, but people do, readily.
I expect that Obama will not only win New Hampshire but go on to win South Carolina, with black voters moving from Clinton's column firmly into his. They've been reluctant in polling all this past year, not believing that a black man can win. They'll start believing now. Running the table of the early primaries should give Obama enormous momentum heading into Feb. 5. The aura of a winner will trump Clinton's vaunted organizational advantages.
Or -- hey, maybe Iowa is just one small, relatively insignificant state and doesn't really matter.
Written and compiled by staff writers and editors, GOVERNING View is an on-the-ground, and sometimes behind-the-scenes, look at the topics we're covering in print and online. From notes on what's up in statehouses, county courthouses and city halls, to encounters with people, places and things, GOVERNING View is a window into the side of state and local government you don't always see.