Q+A: Front Runners Emerge as Presidential Race Moves from Iowa to New Hampshire

Photo Credit Michael Vadon 2
Photo credit: Michael Vadon.

There were many surprises at the Iowa caucus: Ted Cruz leap-frogged Donald Trump, Marco Rubio came in a strong third, and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were neck and neck. And most surprising of all, Trump handled his loss with humility, at least initially. With a reshaped line-up, the candidates are now headed to New Hampshire for the first primary of the 2016 presidential race.

We checked in with William Rosenberg, PhD, a professor of political science in Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences and an expert on presidential campaigns, to find out what the Iowa caucus results mean and what we can expect in New Hampshire on Tuesday.

Why is the Iowa caucus so important? 

Iowa was important because it’s sort of like the “first tasting.” For months, candidates have been spending time and money to do well in a caucus state, and now the first results are in. The caucus creates a winnowing of the field; Rand Paul, Martin O’Malley and Rick Santorum have all dropped out.

While the actual number of delegates each candidate got is not that different, the caucus is more about image and expectation. For example, it was really impactful that Ted Cruz beat Donald Trump, but it’s every bit as big of a story that Marco Rubio came up from such modest numbers. Rubio was really the winner of the caucus because he did so much better than expected.

Moving toward New Hampshire, it will be interesting to see who pulls in the best numbers. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders seems to be leading by a comfortable margin. For the Republicans, Trump is likely to win. However, John Kasich is thought to likely do well. If he comes in second, it could re-launch his campaign and make him a more viable candidate.

You said that Bernie Sanders is likely to do well in New Hampshire. Why do you think he resonates so much with voters? What does Hillary need to do to get ahead of him?

Using Sanders’ own language, he is a democratic socialist, which means that he is more like a European democrat who believes that government should be more involved in doing things for the collective good. He is calling for a revolution of the status quo for politics in the U.S., which seems to resonate particularly with young voters and liberals.

He and many of the Republicans are running, basically, as outsiders who are trying to deal with a generalized sense of disenchantment with the political system. This attitude is why Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are running against the Washington establishment, promising to change things up and get the country back to doing things they believe it should do.

Sanders is doing the same thing from a very liberal perspective. He is supported by a lot of young people and liberals who are very civically active and really want to see a different America.

Sanders is also running against Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street connections. While Clinton has a lot of experience, Sanders’ position is that he questions her judgment. He especially harps on her involvement with the war in Iraq. Clinton is likely to have more support from the African American community — Iowa and New Hampshire are both very white states — but Sanders is quietly making a bigger effort to be understood and embraced by the African American community. Early on in his career, he was a fighter in the civil rights movement in the 1960s — if that becomes more widely known, he has a chance to attract African American support.

Clinton’s problem is that she no longer has the look of invincibility. She was perceived as the de facto winner and Sanders was the long shot, but now he is showing that he’s effective at raising money, which will allow him to stay in campaign longer.

The huge lead that Sanders has had in New Hampshire probably won’t be as big on primary election day. The Clintons have a long history of using New Hampshire as a comeback state.

Trump came in second in Iowa. Do you think he can come back? Did not participating in the last debate really hurt him?

The debate was one factor. Ted Cruz was able to start the debate by criticizing Trump, and the event gave all the other candidates the opportunity to show what they are about rather than just having to respond to Trump. However, the candidates debating ended up getting into some pretty vicious attacks on each other. They were able to have their moments rather than having Trump suck all the air out of the room.

Meanwhile, Trump is trying to appeal to religious voters and prove that he’s not a heathen — he went to church, he got endorsements from Jerry Falwell and Sarah Palin — in order to counter his image as “not a true conservative.” Unfortunately, it didn’t work that well because Marco Rubio did much better than expected and probably took some of Trump’s votes.

Trump is unlikely to become the party nominee. He really has a target on his back now and would need to work hard to prove he can “make America great again.”

What do you think of the race so far?

A lot of people are disenchanted with all of the choices and consider every candidate to be flawed in some way. But voters need to make a decision about who they are most comfortable with — even if there isn’t an ideal candidate — and get to the polls to vote so they don’t get stuck with the default candidate.

I believe that the mechanism by which we vote in presidential primary elections is flawed. We should consider using a “preference voting model” — voters select a first choice, second choice and so on. That way, for example, you could select Trump as a first choice, but if you don’t get Trump, you can make it clear that you want Cruz and not Rubio. Others may prefer Rubio as the first choice but prefer Kasich over Christie or Bush. Within the Democratic party there are less candidates, so this is less of an issue this year. But with many Republican candidates it becomes more problematic.

Members of the news media who are interested in speaking with Rosenberg should contact Alex McKechnie at ahm62@drexel.edu or 215.895.2705.