For all of the media hoopla, GOP caucusgoers in the Hawkeye State have a poor record of choosing their party's eventual nominee.
I don't have anything against Iowa's Republican caucusgoers. They're nice people, good Americans, conscientious and aware of their responsibilities as voters in the state's first-in-the-nation presidential primary. (Iowa Democratic caucusgoers are like this too.)
But the Iowa Republican caucuses have a poor record in choosing their party's nominees. In the five presidential nominating cycles with active Iowa Republican caucus competition, the Hawkeye State has voted for the eventual Republican nominee only twice—in 1996 for Bob Dole, in 2000 for George W. Bush—and only once was the Iowa winner elected president.
The state's Democrats have a better record, producing a surprise victory for Jimmy Carter in 1976 and a big victory for eventual nominee Walter Mondale in 1984. They faltered in 1988 as Dick Gephardt and Paul Simon came in ahead of nominee Michael Dukakis, and in 1992, when Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin swept the field. But they gave big victories to Al Gore in 2000, John Kerry in 2004 and Barack Obama in 2008.
One reason Iowa Democrats have been better prognosticators than Iowa Republicans is that more people participate in their caucuses. About twice as many people showed up for the Democratic precinct caucuses as for their Republican counterparts in 2008. In a state of three million people, a bare 119,000 Republicans showed up for the caucuses. Some 60% of them identified as evangelical or born-again Christians—a far higher percentage than in any presidential contest in any large non-Southern state that year.
The small, skewed turnout resulted in a victory for Mike Huckabee, who ran ads identifying himself as a "Christian leader." In later contests in other states, Mr. Huckabee, despite sparkling performances in debate and impressive command of popular culture, failed to win more than 15% of the support of those who did not identify themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians, and he lost to John McCain.
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