Election Day: 5 things to watch for in Iowa tonight

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Finally, Americans are about to start voting in the 2016 election.

We Buckeyes all know that Ohio is the state that really matters, but for a few months we let the people in Iowa and New Hampshire have the spotlight.

Iowa may not be a big state, but it does matter in presidential elections. The winner of the caucuses doesn’t always go on to win the nomination, but Iowa can often light a fire under some campaigns and bring an end to others.

SPECIAL COVERAGE MONDAY NIGHT

Online: Follow our team on Facebook at Ohio Politics and on Twitter at @Ohio_Politics tonight as results come in from Iowa.

Radio: Special Iowa election coverage on AM 1290 and News 95.7 WHIO starts tonight at 8. Also, complete results and analysis on Miami Valley’s Morning News Tuesday starting at 5 a.m. Stream it anytime at whio.com

Looking back at 2008 for example, when then Senator Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton in Iowa, you could say that led to him becoming president. Clinton actually came in third behind Obama and John Edwards. Winning Iowa showed Democrats nationwide that Obama was a winner. Had he come in behind Clinton there, it might have been a different story.

Iowa also helped solidify George W. Bush as the front-runner for Republicans in 2000. It also jump-started John Kerry’s campaign in 2004 on the Democratic side. Remember the Howard Dean scream from caucus night?

We have no idea what will happen tonight, but here are 5 things to look for:

Could it be 2008 again for Democrats

Hillary Clinton lost Iowa once before when she led in the polls and it could happen again. The new Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll has her at 45 percent and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at 42 percent.

If Sanders wins Iowa heading into New Hampshire where he has a strong lead, it could really create a longer-than-many-expected race on the Democratic side. If young first-time voters show up for Sanders in Iowa like they did for Obama, there’s no reason to think that it couldn’t happen in other states. Remember, this is a social-media election for people under a certain age and tonight we will see if it has momentum. It will still be hard to defeat the Clinton machine in the long-run, but we have heard that before. If Clinton wins Iowa this time around, Sanders will have a harder time stopping her after New Hampshire as elections head to the south.

Trump proves he’s a serious candidate

It’s shocking sometimes when you talk to people who still think Donald Trump is running some kind of joke-celebrity candidacy. Whether you like what he says or think he’s nuts, the fact is that he has had the lead in every national poll for months and leads in most states. If he wins in Iowa tonight as expected, the establishment Republicans, news media and others will have to take a deep breath and realize this is for real.

Monday night could show that people are not just coming out to see Trump at rallies, they are voting for him. A win for Trump in Iowa, followed by a win in New Hampshire where he has a big lead in the polls, will make it hard to beat him unless the field of establishment candidates such as Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush gets a lot smaller real fast. If Trump comes in anywhere below second in Iowa, pollsters and the news media will have a lot of explaining to do.

Will the evangelical trend hold for Republicans?

For Republicans in Iowa, religion matters. In 2012 Rick Santorum pulled a surprise win over Mitt Romney and in 2008 Mike Huckabee, a former minister, had the biggest GOP caucus win ever in the state.

However, neither of them went on to win the nomination.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is going after the evangelical vote hard and needs it to win. However, this year unlike in the past, evangelical voters in Iowa have a lot of choices. Recent polls show about 20 percent of them back Trump. They are also divided up among Ben Carson, Santorum and Huckabee again. If those three candidates weren’t in the race, Cruz would likely win Iowa easily. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is only polling around 5 percent in Iowa, but since he should have a hold on the libertarian wing – and he does have a loyal following – it will be interesting to see if he gets slightly more than that in the actual voting.

The polls don’t show Huckabee or Santorum doing well this time around. But remember in 2012 Santorum was at 15 percent in the Des Moines Register poll just a few days before the election. He ended up with 25 percent and won Iowa.

The O’Malley impact

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is still running for president and tonight he could have an impact on the Democratic side. Democrats in Iowa vote in a different style caucus system than Republicans do.

When voters go to caucus they will group together in a gym or other type room by the candidate they support. For Democrats, that will be mostly behind Clinton and Sanders. Voters can also gather as undeclared. Representatives for the candidates will make speeches to the voters and then the voting happens. Any voters who go with a candidate that doesn’t have at least 15 percent are free to go to another candidate. With the race between Clinton and Sanders at 45-42 percent and O’Malley with 3 percent, he can play the spoiler.

This is how Obama beat Clinton in 2008. Voters who sided with candidates such as Joe Biden and Chris Dodd moved over to Obama after their candidate failed to get 15 percent. O’Malley could play a smaller version of the impact Ralph Nader played in 2000 in the general election between Al Gore and George W. Bush.

Does Rubio emerge as the anti-Trump and anti-Cruz

Rubio10Polls show that for Republicans Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is their second choice. The polls currently show him in third place. If he is a close third or manages a surprise second place finish, he would then be considered by many to be the establishment front-runner. Rubio is running 30-minute ads  in Iowa to get his message across in the final days. A strong showing in Iowa could give him a bump in New Hampshire at the expense of candidates such as Kasich, Bush and Christie.


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