DES MOINES - Iowa is a tough state for presidential front-runners. It may be the passive-aggressive nature of voters. Iowans are exceedingly polite; it's the kind of place you're expected to greet and even chat with others stepping onto an elevator. At the same time, voters here seem to pride themselves on taking politicians down a notch. "Fancy" is not a compliment.
The caucuses, a precinct-level meeting of party activists, gained notice in 1972 when South Dakota's Democratic Sen. George S. McGovern managed to place an unexpected third in a presidential preference straw poll, behind "uncommitted" and the front-running Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine. That established a pattern that has held true for more than 40 years: "Winning" the caucuses doesn't mean attaining more votes than anyone else. It simply means beating expectations, the benchmark established through a mystical process involving campaign strategists, pundits, donors, academics, analysts – in short, anyone following closely enough to be interviewed by reporters covering the caucuses.
In 1976, former Georgia Gov.
Since then, more than a few favorites have been tripped up. As Dennis Goldford, a
-- In 1980, former U.N. Ambassador and
-- In 1984, former Democratic Vice President
-- In 1988, it was Bush’s turn to stumble. As vice president, he finished an embarrassing third, behind Kansas
-- In 2004, Democratic Sen.
-- In 2008, the prohibitive Democratic front-runner, New York Sen.
-- In 2012, after equivocating, Republican front-runner