Why Obama Is Leading In Iowa

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - November 28, 2007
| Del.icio.us

Whoa! What’s this? The news from the continent last week read: “Local Hawaii Boy Lookin’ Good!”

With a mere six weeks left until the Iowa caucuses, Hawaii-born, Punahou-educated Barack Obama has taken a 30 percent-26 percent lead over Sen. Hillary Clinton in a Washington Post/ABC News poll done in the corn and hogs state. Former Sen. John Edwards gets 23 percent in the poll.

How did that happen? Three weeks ago the political talking heads spoke in funereal tones of the Obama candidacy: that his inexperience showed in debates, that he had to “go after Hillary,” that his once-promising, well-funded campaign was running out of gas, if not money.

So now he’s up by 4 percent, and the reasons - this scribe believes - are obvious.

First, nobody loves inevitability, and for the past year or so Hillary Clinton’s victory in the Democratic presidential contest has been labeled inevitable. She has the most money. She has the best organization. She’s looked the most impressive in the debates. And she has the smartest (if least discreet) politician in America sharing her bed - occasionally.

Presidential campaigns are at least one-part entertainment, and more than a year before the first primary, at least 30 percent of Iowans don’t want to lower the curtain on the show.

Second, there’s the problem of dynasties. In George H.W. and George W. Bush, we tried a father-and-son dynasty; now Bill and Hillary are asking us to try a husband-and-wife dynasty.

Given the presidential tumult of the past 20 Bush-Clinton-Bush years, some Iowa Democrats appear to be having second thoughts.

Obama may be many things, but he certainly isn’t part of a dynasty. It was less than half-a-century ago that African Americans were able to move from the back of the bus. They’ve never been able to move into the White House.

Third, we tend to prefer personality over intellect in American politics, particularly in the age of television. Don’t believe that? Witness the ascendancy of His Incompetency, George W. Bush.

He can’t talk. He can’t think. He can’t do much of anything right. And intellectually he could-n’t carry the bags of John McCain, Al Gore or John Kerry - his principal opponents in 2000 and 2004.

But boy-oh-boy-oh-boy is Bush ever folksy. His twang reminds you of every country western singer, every good old boy gathered around the cracker barrel you ever heard, saw or read about. His little sneer may bother you at times, but his kiddin’ and joshin’ make you forget his administration’s non-response to Hurricane Katrina and the war he launched over those non-existent “weapons of mass destruction.”

Personality counts, and Obama’s got it. He’s obviously comfortable with himself, his past and his present. Obama lopes into a rally, and he brings excitement with him.

Fourth, Obama can both write and talk. His two books, Dreams of My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance and The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, are candid, thoughtful and - in places - downright eloquent.

And the country knows he can give a speech. Three years ago, Obama’s keynote at the Democratic convention took the prize for speech-making at both party confabs. Two Saturdays ago, Obama reminded Iowa Democrats of his eloquence in a Des Moines speech in which, according to reports, he bested the other presidential hopefuls.

Fifth, there’s the war in Iraq. It was the issue in last year’s mid-term elections, the results of which gave Democrats control of both houses of Congress. And while conditions appear to be improving in that tortured country, it remains a litmus test among many Democratic activists - a test both Sens. Clinton and Edwards failed.

They voted to give Bush the authority to invade. Obama, then an Illinois legislator, opposed authorization. That’s enough for Democratic partisans, and they’re the type most likely to make it to the Iowa caucuses.

Finally, it’s Iowa, and voters in the Hawkeye state love to bite the okole of a front runner. In 1988, Iowa Republicans gave their caucus nod to Rev. Pat Robertson rather than Vice President George H.W. Bush, the Republican inevitable one that year. In 2004, Vermont Gov. Howard Dean went into Iowa Democratic caucuses with all the momentum; he came out a howling loser to Sen. John Kerry.

That’s why, with six weeks left, Hawaii’s favorite son leads Hillary by 4 percent in Iowa.

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