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University of Iowa News Release


Dec. 31, 2007

University of Iowa political experts offer caucus forecast

With just three days until Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses, four of the University of Iowa's top political experts (Tim Hagle, associate professor of political science and faculty advisor to the UI College Republicans; Kevin Leicht, a political sociologist and director of the UI's Social Science Research Center; Tracy Osborn, assistant professor of political science and an expert on women and politics; and David Redlawsk, associate professor of political science and director of the UI Hawkeye Poll) weigh in on what to watch for in the caucuses, how this year's early caucus date will impact the contests, and what impact a good -- or bad -- showing in the Iowa Caucuses may have on the campaigns.

What should people watch for in the Iowa Caucuses? Do you foresee any surprises?

Redlawsk: "Watch rural Iowa carefully for the Democratic contest -- it's much more the key than urban areas because the caucus process skews a little rural. If Edwards does well on caucus night, it will be because he shows strength in small-town Iowa."

Redlawsk: "The Republican race is basically Romney versus Huckabee, and either can win the Iowa Caucuses. Anything close for Huckabee -- whether he wins or comes in a close second -- is a loss for Romney. Romney has staff, offices and money. Huckabee has none of these, but he may have a strong core of true believers."

How much emphasis are campaigns putting on the Iowa Caucuses?

Hagle: "Democrats are putting more emphasis on Iowa. Obama and Edwards in particular seem to see Iowa as where they have to win to beat Hillary for the nomination. Republicans are tending to have a longer-term strategy."

Where do various candidates need to finish in the Iowa Caucuses? How will their showing here affect the future of their campaigns?

Osborn: "A good finish in the caucuses -- particularly if it is viewed as 'good' compared to expectations going in -- could give the candidate frontrunner status going into the next few states. That is, if a candidate is expected to get 10 percent of delegates but gets 20 percent, this will undoubtedly be viewed as unexpected strength. On the other hand, if one of the front-running candidates in the polls now (Clinton, Obama or Edwards for the Democrats; Huckabee, Romney or Giuliani for the Republicans) seems too far behind those with whom he or she was tied, poll-wise, going into the caucuses, this could be a hard obstacle to overcome. They will have to work hard to explain why they didn't stay with the other frontrunners. This view of outcome versus expectations is particularly important given the virtual tie on both sides going into the caucuses."

Hagle: "Given the effort Romney has put into Iowa, he certainly doesn't want to lose here, though a strong second may not hurt him that much. Romney could probably lose either Iowa or New Hampshire, but both, even with strong second-place finishes, might be tough. Giuliani and Thompson seem to be looking further down the road and not emphasizing Iowa as much. Even so, they have been putting forth more effort here in the final weeks. Rudy's strong in later states, but doesn't want to come to those states being zero-for-whatever. If he can cut the margins of victory for the other candidates, it will minimize any bounce they get, preserving his leads in the later states."

Hagle: "Edwards finished second in the Iowa Caucuses in 2004. That means he needs to do at least that well this time to still be considered a contender. If Hillary wins and Edwards is second, it's probably over for Edwards. If Obama wins and Edwards is second, Edwards might be able to continue, but he'll really have to go after Obama. Bill Clinton has been working to lower expectations for Hillary. If she takes second in Iowa, she'll probably be in good shape for New Hampshire."

Leicht: "On the Democratic side, Edwards and Obama would be fine finishing in the top three. Because Clinton was so heavily favored early on, she really needs to finish in the top two. Anyone else who can pull double-digit numbers in support beyond Clinton, Edwards and Obama can move on and call the result good."

Leicht: "On the Republican side, Huckabee needs to do well in Iowa. He can't afford to finish worse than second to Romney. If he places behind Giuliani -- a highly unlikely outcome -- he's in serious trouble."

What are your thoughts on turnout? Will holding caucuses over winter break have a big effect?

Osborn: "Two factors could draw a different crowd to the caucuses this year. The variety among the field of candidates -- minority candidates and a woman candidate -- could draw in caucus-goers who identify with these candidates and want to support them. And, the closeness of both the Democratic and Republican races may draw in those who were ambivalent about participating, particularly given they can register to caucus that day."

Hagle: "The early date is a real problem for students. Students who are Iowa residents can register to vote in their hometown and caucus there, but my guess is that turnout will be poorer than if they were on campus. Nonresident students will have to come back to participate. Campaigns are making efforts to get their supporters to return, but it will likely be difficult."

Redlawsk: "Turnout will matter most for Obama. A large turnout -- more than 2004's 124,000 Democrats -- will bode well for him. But it won't be because of students, who either will not turn out in particularly large numbers, or if they do, they will be concentrated in a few precincts in university towns."

What impact has the early caucus date had on campaigns?

Hagle: "The earlier date makes it difficult for the campaigns to deal with the holidays. In the past, they have pretty much shut down, or at least curtailed, their major operations from Christmas to New Year's Day and still had about three weeks to campaign when the caucuses were at the end of January. Now, they can't really afford to lose that week. That's particularly true this year when the races on both sides are still up in the air."

Will the winners of the Iowa caucuses still be able to enjoy a bounce in support despite the compressed primary schedule?

Hagle: "In the past, with eight days before the New Hampshire primary, candidates had time to make the best of any Iowa bounce. That allowed voters time to take another look at a given candidate and gave campaigns an opportunity to try to raise additional funds for increased efforts in later states. The compressed schedule won't allow for as much of this to occur."

Visit for UI political experts' contact information and other resources for journalists covering the 2008 elections. Hagle, Leicht, Osborn and Redlawsk are faculty members in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Nicole Riehl, University News Services, 319-384-0070,