Analysis: Iowa ensured tough road for Clinton


Published: Thursday, January 3, 2008 at 7:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 3, 2008 at 7:41 p.m.

For all her celebrity, connections and cash, the people of Iowa made sure Hillary Rodham Clinton would not have an easy road to the presidential nomination.

The state's voters have a history of looking past front-runners and rejecting women candidates, and they gave a close look at two other Democrats who offered something the former first lady couldn't a new start in the White House.

With tough competition from Barack Obama and John Edwards, Clinton struggled to get a leg up in the nation's first caucus state even though she dominated polls of Democratic voters elsewhere across the country.

It wasn't for a lack of trying Clinton put massive resources into the state over an objection from one of her top advisers who warned early on it would be tough for her. In pursuit of the Iowa prize, the world-famous senator ate locally popular "loose meat" sandwiches while cameras recorded every bite, examined the famed life-size cow carved out of butter at the Iowa State Fair and jokingly offered to let farmers examine the inside of her mouth if that's what it took to get their vote.

The final push was a family affair, with contributions from daughter Chelsea and mother Dorothy Rodham, who usually shy away from political appearances, and husband Bill, who is never reluctant to campaign.

But for all the Clintons' star power among Democrats, Obama and Edwards drew their own large followings by arguing it's time for a new direction in Washington. Voters clearly were interested in moving past the Bush presidency, with even underdog candidates Joe Biden and Bill Richardson drawing crowds that in previous years would have been impressive for a front-runner.

But voters were divided over who would be the best nominee for the party after suffering narrow losses to Bush in the last two presidential elections.

Edwards began with a strong following after his second-place finish in 2004, and his supporters did not abandon him even as his campaign suffered over the summer amid negative publicity over his expensive haircuts and lavish new home. But at the time when Edwards was down, he saw Clinton and Obama close his lead in Iowa.

Obama made his most significant advances in closing weeks, beginning with a roof-raising speech at the Iowa Democratic Party's fundraising dinner in November. Obama and Clinton were flush with campaign contributions and used them to build unprecedented Iowa campaign organizations aimed at bringing new voters out to caucus, along with courting the reliable and experienced attendees.

As it became clear in the closing days that Clinton was not running away with the state, her campaign began to lower expectations. Edwards had the benefit of long-standing relationships with loyal Iowans, her advisers said. Obama has the advantage of being from a neighboring state, they pointed out.

Clinton even exaggerated in the past week by saying she had come a long way considering she started out in single digits in Iowa polls, even though no public surveys ever had her below the teens.

The benefit of arguing rivals have a stronger campaign? If Clinton would win, her victory would seem more impressive. If she were to lose, it would seem expected.

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