- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2008

The winter Iowa caucuses, for all the attention they receive every four years, have a checkered history in selecting presidential nominees.

Now more than a century old, these little-understood, close-knit nominating rituals were largely ignored for most of their history, but have won increasing attention since Jimmy Carter, an unknown former Georgia governor and peanut farmer, won the Iowa contest over five rivals in 1976 and went on to capture the Democratic nomination and the presidency.

But others who did not win the hearts and minds of the voters in this Midwestern state’s frigid farm country have won their party’s presidential nomination without Iowa’s seal of approval.

Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota came in a distant third after “uncommitted” in first and Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine in second. But Mr. McGovern went on to win his party’s nomination in 1972 on a political tide of opposition to the Vietnam War.

In 1980, George H.W. Bush narrowly defeated former California Gov. Ronald Reagan in Iowa by 31.6 percent to 29.5 percent, only to see the former movie star and conservative hero win successive caucus and primary contests and easily capture the Republican nomination. Mr. Reagan then picked Mr. Bush as his running mate.

But when then-Vice President Bush ran for president in 1988, Iowa Republicans abandoned him in favor of a Midwestern favorite, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, who came in first with 37 percent, with TV evangelist Pat Robertson second at 25 percent and Mr. Bush in third place with 19 percent.

Mr. Bush regrouped and went on to win his party’s nomination and the presidency.

Iowa Democrats have had a similar tendency to favor their own state or regional Midwestern leaders over outsiders. In 1988, Rep. Richard A. Gephardt won his party’s caucuses with 31 percent, with Sen. Paul Simon finishing a strong second at 27 percent and Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts trailing in third place with 22 percent. Both Mr. Gephardt and Mr. Simon came from states bordering Iowa — Missouri and Illinois, respectively.

Nevertheless, Mr. Dukakis won the presidential primary in one of his state’s neighbors, New Hampshire, and went on to win his party’s nomination.

Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa stood little chance of winning the Democratic nomination in 1992, but the field of candidates, including Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, largely bypassed the state’s caucuses in deference to its favorite son, who crushed his rivals with 76 percent of the vote. Still, Mr. Clinton, who drew only 3 percent of the caucus vote, ended up winning the nomination.

Iowa experimented with a primary when the state legislature voted to implement the statewide ballot system in 1913, but restored the caucuses after 1916 when only a fourth of the state’s registered voters participated.


Iowa’s caucus winners have not always gone on to win the party nomination. Here are some notable examples over the past three decades:

• 1980: George H.W. Bush narrowly won the Iowa Republican caucuses over former California Gov. Ronald Reagan by 32 percent to 30 percent, but Mr. Reagan went on the capture the Republican nomination.

Mr. Bush was his vice-presidential running mate.

• 1988: Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, helped by his strong Midwest roots, won Iowa’s Democratic contest with 31 percent, followed by Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois with 27 percent and Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis with 22 percent.

Mr. Dukakis went on to win the nomination, only to lose the election to George H.W. Bush.

• 1992: Iowa Democrats delivered the lion’s share of their caucus vote (76 percent) to favorite son Sen. Tom Harkin, and the rest of the field essentially bypassed the contest.

Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, who got 3 percent of the vote, went on to win the nomination and the presidency, defeating President George H.W. Bush.

Source: The Washington Times



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