Can Obama repeat Iowa?

As others have already noted, in almost every presidential campaign there’s a candidate who says he or she is going to win on the basis of new voters (especially young ones), and that prediction almost never comes true. Barack Obama actually made it come true in Iowa, and that makes it a lot harder for Hillary Clinton to mock his "electibility" argument. An obvious parallel in Massachusetts is Gov. Deval Patrick, who was deemed too liberal and too unexperienced to win a general election — until he greatly increased turnout in the Democratic primary and proved that he could indeed attract new voters, meaning he wouldn’t have to simply fight with the Republican nominee over a small band of perpetual "swing" voters in November. (One can argue that Obama is to Patrick what 2004 netroots favorite Howard Dean is to 2002 Bay State gubernatorial candidate Robert Reich. Dean and Reich talked about building a new progressive coalition. Obama — in Iowa, anyway — and Patrick went ahead and did it.)

Obama’s Iowa victory makes it harder for Clinton to find his Achilles’ heel. He seems to wear well with voters over time, he’s been able to fend off Clinton’s tentative attacks (so far) without appearing negative, and his campaign appears to be tightly run. Iowa also proved (as Patrick did in Massachusetts in 2006) that polls no longer overstate the strength of black candidates. Clinton may be able to convince New Hampshire voters to assert their perogative prerogative of snubbing Iowa winners, but she may not be the ideal candidate to pull this off. As I noted in a previous post, opposition to Iowa winners has historically been strongest in the western part of the state ("eastern Vermont") and in college towns, which is precisely where Obama seems strongest.

In the end, Obama’s biggest weakness may turn out to be the same one he was thought to have before Iowa. He may not be able to turn out new voters, younger voters, and perhaps minority voters in later primary states that don’t have a history of playing a crucial role in the nomination process. It was impressive that he assembled a winning coalition in Iowa after nearly a year of campaigning there, but he simply may not have the time to do the same thing in California, Ohio, and Texas. His victory in Iowa was anticipated by a rise in the polls there, even if not everyone believed in them, but so far he has not caught up to Clinton in any state larger than South Carolina (other than his native Illinois). We’ll see if that changes over the next week or two.

Another curiosity: It’s been little noted that Obama’s favorability rating has taken a beating over the last few months, and by some measures he’s as unpopular as Hillary Clinton. (He has a 43-51 approval rating in the latest Rasmussen poll, which is worse than Clinton’s 48-50 deficit.) But I don’t think it’s clear whether Obama’s "unfavorables" have gone up because of voters reacting to what they see of the candidate or what they hear about him from other sources. I’m curious to see if the numbers change in the wake of Obama’s victory speech in Iowa and what is likely to be more direct coverage of his campaign in New Hampshire. If his unfavorable rating slides back down below Clinton’s, she may have a tough time turning things around.