Iowa Caucus Fall-out

The Iowa nominating caucuses are coming up after months of campaigning by the Presidential hopefuls. Texans won't nominate candidates until March, and one political observer says many voters are going to feel left out, because the field will be thinned out so much by then. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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Political scientist Bob Stein of Rice University says nearly 30 other states have their primaries before March, and he thinks by then the field will be down to just the frontrunners, and at least one of the races could be settled, but, the thinning has to start somewhere. Stein says Iowa voters aren't deciding who "will" be President, as much as they're deciding who "won't" be President.ξ

"If you think about the number of people running, it's a large number of people, larger than we've seen in the last, maybe a quarter century, in part because there's no incumbent President or Vice-President, and they've been running for a long time.ξ So maybe the best way to put it is that what Iowa will do, and I think it's very true at this point, is tell us who are the early casualties."

Conventional wisdom says candidates who don't get double digit numbers in Iowa should stop wasting their time and money. Stein says that's not always true, because candidates who don't finish high in Iowa often go on to do very well in other states. He says Iowa also has a way of producing surprises. Candidates seen as frontrunners going in are sometimes brought down, and candidates seen as also-rans going in sometimes come out a frontrunner.

Even so, with nearly 30 states holding primaries ahead of Texas, including some big northeastern states, many of the hopefuls won't be around by March 4th, leaving only the top three or four frontrunners in both parties. Stein thinks this could give Texas voters a big voice in at least one of the primaries.

"It's a possibility, particularly on the Republican side, that we could be an important state, and into March our primary will still see the Republican nomination, if not up in the air, still competitive between maybe one to two and three candidates."ξ

The Texas primary was originally moved from May to March because party leaders wanted the state to play a larger role in the Presidential sweepstakes. Now that a bunch of other states have jumped ahead of Texas with earlier primaries, some say the state's influence has been reduced.ξ Stein says while that may or may not be true, he doesn't think the Texas primaries will be moved up just to keep up with the other states.

"The parties are very much private affairs. They call and make their own rules, although they do help to determine and shape American politics at the Presidential level. I'm not looking for a massive run to reform the primary process, although I think there will be some conversation about it, and a lot will depend on what the outcome is. It's very hard to change party politics and party procedures."

Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.

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