David Yepsen: Winners make Iowa, New Hampshire look good
DES MOINES, Iowa (Des Moines Register) -- The victories of Al Gore and George W. Bush are good news for Iowa politicians out to protect Iowa's caucuses. For the first time since Jimmy Carter, the winner of a competitive Iowa caucus fight will be in the White House.
Also, both presidential candidates are on record saying Iowa and New Hampshire should lead off the presidential-nominating process. Since Iowa is a competitive state in November, each candidate has a reason to keep that promise at the national conventions this summer when the 2004 nomination rules will be set.
Neither wants to throw away any electoral votes by double-crossing local parties.
But all is not well. The problem for the Iowa caucuses is now more political than legal. Even if they are technically first, many future presidential candidates will be tempted to bypass Iowa. Iowa can give a party but no one may come.
John McCain bypassed the state and lit his rocket in New Hampshire. The conventional wisdom is that Bill Bradley should have done the same. This view holds Bradley might have been able to defeat Gore if he'd spent less time in Iowa and more in New Hampshire. Alas, he didn't and is now toast.
Since political strategists are known for fighting the last war, come 2004 there will be a real temptation for candidates in the party out of power to just forget the Iowa caucuses to focus more time in New Hampshire. Much of that calculation will depend on which party is out of power and who the individual candidates are that year.
For example, if Bush wins the White House and the Democrats are out of power, Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, Paul Wellstone of Minnesota or Richard Gephardt of Missouri might find an early start in neighboring Iowa to be of some advantage. But a John Kerry of Massachusetts might not.
Another nettlesome problem for the caucuses is the poor airline service in Iowa. For the political community, getting to Iowa from Washington, D.C., is a hassle. There are direct connections from Washington's Reagan airport to places like New Hampshire and South Carolina. Not Iowa.