Well, it's well and truly official: Hillary Clinton is running for president, in what has to be the least surprising campaign announcement of all time. Which means from now until November 2016, the freshly-minted Democratic frontrunner will be devoting all her time and all her energy towards the simple, paramount goal of rustlin' up votes. But the first date on the presidential primary date calendar is a quite unique, atypical experience — how will Hillary fare in Iowa?
The Iowa caucuses are the only reason, after all, that would-be presidents spend so much time in the Hawkeye State, to glad-hand with voters, and maybe check out the decidedly garish Iowa State Fair butter cow. By virtue of its first-in-the-nation status, the state of Iowa has become inordinately scrutinized, patronized and pandered to by major party politicians for years — it's basically the whole reason we hear so much about ethanol. Last month, in fact, GOP strategist Liz Mair had to resign from the Scott Walker campaign just days after being hired, thanks to some derisive tweets about Iowa's prominent place in presidential politics.
In short, the first true measure of a candidate and campaign's health comes in the Iowa caucuses, the first chance to generate momentum before the primary gauntlet really begins. And just a quick glance back shows a troubling history for Hillary — Iowa was the site of her first upset loss to then-Senator Obama, effectively launching him as a national political force.
Heading into the 2008 race, Hillary was transparently the overwhelming favorite, both in the eyes of media observers and the Washington establishment — it was this seeming inevitability, frankly, that makes it hard to trust all those same indications this time around. But her aura of invincibility was short-lived, as Obama secured 38 percent of the caucus delegates to her 29 percent. This is one of the ways that towering expectations can hurt you — when the top dog stumbles, it looks all the more glaring. Hillary came roaring back with an emotional win in the New Hampshire primary, but she couldn't win the war, conceding defeat to Obama just months later.
So, how will she fare this time around? All indications at this early date seem optimistic, with a February Des Moines Register poll finding her the top pick for 56 percent of Iowa respondents. Even more advantageously, first runner-up Sen. Elizabeth Warren is both incredibly distant at 16 percent, and she isn't even a sure thing to run — she's denied that she will several times, in the face of a lot of enthusiasm.
Of course, nothing is assured this far out. Warren could change course and jump in, and maybe catch some of that barreling momentum that Obama managed to get in 2008. But when you look at the field besides a potential Warren run, it's frankly profoundly underwhelming in a way that an exciting, gifted politician like Obama never was. Martin O'Malley, Jim Webb, Joe Biden? None of them seem even remotely likely to get it done. Bernie Sanders? Not gonna happen. Simply put, the stage at this instant is set in precisely the way Hillary would draw it up if she could. And if Warren sits this one out, all the moreso.
Images: Getty Images (2)