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Wolfson's Iowa Hypothetical

Topics: Barack Obama , Exit Polls , Hillary Clinton , Iowa , Jon Cohen

The punditry is crackling this morning over remarks by Howard Wolfson, Hillary Clinton's campaign communications director, over what might have happened had John Edwards' been forced out of the presidential race last year: "I believe we would have won Iowa, and Clinton today would therefore have been the nominee," Wolfson told ABC News.

Washington Post polling director Jon Cohen did the logical thing and checked relevant survey data from Iowa:

It is a pure hypothetical, of course, and the entire dynamics of the contest would have been different without Edwards. But the public data do not bolster the notion that Clinton would have won.

In the networks' Iowa entrance poll, 43 percent of those who went to a caucus to support Edwards said Obama was their second choice, far fewer, 24 percent said they would support Clinton if their top choice did not garner enough votes at that location. The remainder of Edwards' backers said they would be uncommitted under such a scenario, offered no second choice or said they preferred someone else.

Nor was Clinton the obvious second choice among Edwards supporters in Post-ABC pre-election Iowa caucus polls in July, November or December. In July, for their alternate pick, Iowans split 32 percent for Obama to 30 percent for Clinton. In November, Obama led 43 to 26 percent as backup pick, and he had a slight 37 to 30 percent edge in December.

Nate Silver echoes that last point point and notes that, looking at the trend lines in late January, "Barack Obama appeared to get the lion's share of Edwards supporters once Edwards dropped from the race."

 

Comments
jsh1120:

I agree that Wolfson's comments have little empirical support. He might be on stronger ground, however, to argue that had Edwards not made the race at all Clinton could have won the Iowa caucuses.

As I recall, there was considerable debate in the Clinton campaign as to whether to contest Iowa given Edwards' apparent strength in the state. Once Clinton decided to focus on the state she was already considerably behind Obama and Edwards in terms of grassroots organization.

Had Edwards decided to drop out of the race much earlier, the Clinton campaign might well have decided to focus their efforts in Iowa and New Hampshire in order to put a stop to the Obama campaign even before Super Tuesday.

I realize this argument is full of hypotheticals, some of which are very unlikely, especially given the dysfunctional management of the Clinton campaign at the time. On the other hand, it's at least as likely as Wolfson's less well supported argument.

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brambster:

I remember thinking coming up to Super Tuesday that Obama would do well if Edwards was out of the race, and in the debates, both Edwards and Obama were pushing the "change" mantra and attacking Hillary. Then when Edwards dropped out just before Super Tuesday I thought that Edwards was essentially giving up so that the stronger of the two, Edwards and Obama, would have a chance to beat Hillary. Then in the months after, I recall being puzzled as to why Edwards was not endorsing Obama thinking that the move was obvious. Of course Edwards eventually came through for Obama, but not early enough to have made a difference, and the press reported that there was conflict regarding his endorsement of either.

There existed a large and strong "anyone but Hillary" contingency out there, and they coalesced around Obama completely when Edwards dropped out.

I am near positive that Obama wouldn't have won if it wasn't for Edwards dropping out, however I don't think that Iowa as the key by Edwards staying in, but rather his exit just before Super Tuesday which gave Obama most of his support.

Clearly the Hillary camp had severe delusions regarding her entitlement to the nomination, and she probably would have won if they weren't so blinded and better prepared to campaign against Democrats instead of just the Republicans early on. Wolfson may think that Iowa was the key, but he's also one of the few that were responsible for Hillary's loss, not Edwards.

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st paul sage:

if i had some ham...

and i had some eggs. i could have ham and eggs.

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Lucy1007:

I didn't find a contact form or email address on this site, so I'm going to post this around an see if the matter is cleared up.

There seems to be a technical difficulty with the Alabama: Clinton vs. McCain page. The chart is correct, but the polling data underneath is not. It has the data for Obama vs. McCain. Please send this message to whoever is responsible for the technical aspects of this site.

Thank you.

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I had the same though when I heard the news. In fact, I wrote back in January that Clinton and Edwards were splitting support.

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richard pollara:

The Democratic nomination was likely decided on October 30, 2007 during the MSNBC debate. Read the transcripts to see how Edwards and Obama assailed Mrs. Clinton's credibility. Below is an exerpt which was played over and over again:

John Edwards speaking:

"Unless I missed something, Senator Clinton said two different things in the course of about two minutes just a few minutes ago.

And I think this is a real issue for the country. I mean, America is looking for a president who will say the same thing, who will be consistent, who will be straight with them. Because what we’ve had for seven years is double-talk from Bush and from Cheney, and I think America deserves us to be straight."

As you can see it is almost painful to reread. Would Mrs. Clinton have been mortally wounded by attacks from Biden, Richardson, Dodd et al. Not likely. It was the double pronged attacks from Obama and Edwards that did the trick.

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