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Why Barack Obama Won The Iowa Caucuses

I think the explanation tomorrow morning, of Hillary's implosion and Obama's (un/miraculous) victory, could have been found today: The Iowa Independent--"a collaboration of bloggers and journalists across Iowa"--wrote two pieces about the test of retail politics in their state, one it believes Clinton failed and Obama, apparently, passed with flying colors. Money grafs from Douglas Burns, in his piece "Why Barack Obama Will Win the Iowa Caucuses":

One very much underappreciated dynamic in this race is that among the leading Democratic contenders Obama is the Midwesterner. Hillary is New York slick and Edwards is a Southern-fried pol who delivered a speech so populist in tone Sunday that I suspected he might leave Carroll High School, cross the street and march with a torched mob on the more well-to-do Collison Addition of our town.

Yes, we are a largly white state, and sure, it goes without saying that when Barack Obama is on the television screen or behind the political podium we see a black man.

That is, after all, what he is.

But when you listen to Obama, the substance of thinking, the cadence of his reasoning, his unassuming acceptance of people, you hear a Midwesterner.

"What I see in Iowa are a lot the qualities I love in Illinois," Obama told me in an interview. "I think there's a truth to the idea that there's a Midwestern sensibility and that people don't like a lot of fuss, don't like a lot of pretense, and I think are much more likely to think about things pragmatically and how do you get the job done as opposed to having a lot of ideology driving decision-making. And I think that's what America needs right now."

So Obama did a down-home, "ordinary" (to borrow Michelle Obama's phrasing) campaign. On the other hand, John Deeth, writing in the Independent this morning, in an essay called "Clinton Understood Surface, not Spirit of Caucuses," criticizes the aloof, carpetbagging philosophy Clinton brought to the ground game in Iowa:

[S]trategic changes early on for the Clinton campaign leave questions.  Could she have closed the deal in Iowa?  And how much did the efficient Team Hillary machine really get the unscripted authenticity and spontaneity of the Iowa caucuses?

After the Clinton rally last night in Iowa City, a Clinton precinct captain sighed in frustration and, insisting on anonymity, shared this story.  The precinct captain's friend, a school principal, had said he was trying to choose between Clinton and Obama.  He was on his way into the rally when his cell phone rang.  It was Obama.

Not a campaign staffer, a volunteer, or a robo-call.  It was Barack Obama himself. The personal request proved to be sufficient, as the principal pledged his support directly to the candidate, turned on his heel, and walked out of the Clinton event.

Now, we all know Iowans are spoiled, and I've heard some stories of Clinton calling individual Iowans, albeit Iowans of the elected official rank.  But the Clinton precinct captain told this tale as an example of frustration with the top-down organization of the Clinton campaign.  An Obama precinct captain was able to get the word up through the county and state structure that this principal, not a party activist but certainly a neighborhood leader who'd look really persuasive standing in the Obama corner at his precinct, could be persuaded by a few words from the candidate.

The Clinton campaign, in contrast, ran a cautious general election campaign in the ultimate retail environment.  But like a singer with perfect pitch who misses the meaning of the song, Clinton kept errors to a minimum but failed to capture the spontaneous spirit of the caucuses.  She started out doing one-on-one meetings with undecided local activists, but as her national lead held, Clinton moved toward a "general election strategy," as she said at a debate.  By the time Obama was catching up in the fall, it was too late to go back and adapt.

Hear, hear. Note that Burns, a smart but undoubtedly low-profile reporter, has interviewed Obama six times since April--a testament to the regular-guy access Obama used to win over the Iowa voters. This kind of transparency will stand us in good stead come November.

--Dayo Olopade