OPINION| And then there were five

Opinion crane

“Let me be clear.  We won the first round, but this campaign is far from over,” Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, in an overnight communication to his donors and supporters after handily winning the Iowa GOP Caucus. 

After what already may seem like years, especially on the GOP side of this race, the voting has finally started. The Iowa GOP selected from the farthest right of its standard bearers, and on the Democratic side, its most liberal wing spurred to “Feel the Bern” delivered a dead heat. The Iowa Caucus matters, primarily providing a healthy bump of credibility, financial support and momentum heading toward New Hampshire to its winners, or in this case, also toward the strong second- and third-place finishers.

But, the field is about to winnow considerably. Before results were finalized on the Democratic side, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley suspended his campaign. The articulate, attractive former mayor of Baltimore and later governor, who looks like the actors who portray presidents in movies, acknowledged what had already been apparent for several weeks—that the Democratic contest is down to a two-person horse race for the heart of their party. 

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is pulling a wagon full of party leadership, super delegates, super PAC donors and other contributors as well as the full set of Clinton indestructible Samsonite baggage. Though Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is making this race more competitive than expected, he has yet to make significant inroads with large Democratic Party base constituencies, chief among them Black voters, who will comprise a larger share of the party’s primary electorate as the calendar moves on and south to South Carolina and the S.E.C. Primary. 

On the GOP side, Cruz demonstrated the continuing importance of a strong ground game. In Iowa, Team Trump was late out of the gate, learning last week that there was not a single 15-seat passenger van available for rent in the entire state. Most every available shuttle, school bus, and probably more than a few limos, was called into service by both parties for caucus night. Another of Iowa’s long-standing and quirky traditions is that campaigns also frequently provide door-to-door service to their committed supporters, neighbors and like-minded caucus goers. Same-day registration allowed for many a former Democrat to participate in the GOP Caucus, which had a total exceeding 180,000 participants, an increase of nearly 50 percent over the prior caucus as well as an all-time GOP record.

And while Cruz compatriots have much to celebrate, his chances are not as good in the more practical/independent minded Granite State, where the party establishment and newspaper of record, The Manchester Union Leader, still matter, and the Evangelical and Tea Party segments of the GOP are much smaller. 

The second biggest story of this Iowa night may be the surge by Florida’s junior U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio. Rubio, who could give the GOP a head-start on a fall campaign warming up to Hispanic voters (along with Cruz, Rubio is of Cuban heritage), was able to win a solid third place, less than 2,000 votes behind the no-longer-invincible Trump and only three points from matching the combined showings of the eight other GOP contenders on this ballot (a total of 26 percent). 

With the 2008 Iowa Caucus winner, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee withdrawing on election night, the next expected shoe to drop is the 2012 winner, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Though Huckabee is rumored to be endorsing Trump later this week in Little Rock, Ark., a strong argument can be made that the majority of future candidate consolidation, possibly excluding Dr. Ben Carson, is most likely to benefit Team Rubio.

Trump leads by a healthy margin in New Hampshire, but the smart money says that balloon now has a puncture wound and will lose some of its altitude and height.

Clinton smiled and insisted she is relieved by results in Iowa, but Sanders enjoys a healthy margin in New Hampshire, and recent headlines about old emails have the Clinton machine’s eyes cutting sideways in that forced smile in both directions. 

So, although many of these names will remain on ballots already printed, some mailed and heading overseas, as well as on later election days, the coming week, perhaps two, will bring a significant winnowing of this field. Iowa again does not predict, but it still does separate wheat from chaff, or in this case, corn.

Bill Crane also serves as a political analyst and commentator for Channel 2’s Action News, WSB-AM News/Talk 750 and now 95.5 FM, as well as a columnist for The Champion, Champion Free Press and Georgia Trend. Crane is a DeKalb native and business owner, living in Scottdale. You can reach him or comment on a column at bill.csicrane@gmail.com. 

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