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Beyond Iowa: The GOP and Media Expectations

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With five Republican candidates polling at 10 or more percent in the Iowa caucuses (Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, John McCain, and Ron Paul), as well as in national polls (substituting Rudy Giuliani for Ron Paul), the GOP race certainly appears to be the horserace to end all horseraces.

In the last three decades, five candidates have never reached double-digits in the GOP Iowa caucus, although it almost happened in 1996 (Bob Dole (26%), Pat Buchanan (23%), Lamar Alexander (18%), Steve Forbes (10%), Phil Gramm (9%)) and in 1988 (Bob Dole (37%), Pat Robertson (25%), George H. W. Bush (19%), Jack Kemp (11%), and Pete DuPont (7%)).

As outlined in a Smart Politics blog yesterday, the role expectations play cannot be overstated in how the media frames candidate performances in these early caucus and primary states: at least 3 commentators on MSNBC and Fox News (including Tom Brokaw) compared Huckabee's win with "Pat Robertson's victory" in Iowa in 1988. As mentioned several times here at Smart Politics this campaign season, it was Bob Dole who won in 1988, not Robertson. But, to suit their frame, the media does not let these facts get in the way when they play the expectations game. You see, Robertson's performance in 1988 was so strong relative to expectations (defeating then Vice-President George H. W. Bush for second place), that he became the story. So much so, that his strong finish has now apparently turned into a 'victory' according to prominent broadcasters and pundits.

As with Robertson (who also relied heavily on the evangelical Christian vote in Iowa), the media is rightfully pointing out some potential demographic pitfalls for Huckabee in the short-term (e.g. New Hampshire) and in larger and more industrialized states down the road (California, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio etc.). However, Huckabee would be wise to squash this convenient media frame, and his image thus far in the campaign has been portrayed as different than Robertson's. Huckabee (an ex-minister) is viewed as more of a folksy, truth-teller than Robertson, who was still an active preacher. Huckabee is also viewed as a lot less divisive and controversial. So look for the former Arkansas Governor to perform much, much better than did Robertson both in New Hampshire and beyond.

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Remains of the Data

Plurality-Winning Governors Elected At Century-Long High Water Mark

The rate of gubernatorial candidates elected without the support of a majority of voters is at its highest level since the 1910s.

Political Crumbs

Seeing Red

Congressman Nick Rahall's failed bid for a 20th term in West Virginia this cycle, combined with a narrow loss by Nick Casey to Alex Mooney in Shelley Moore Capito's open seat, means that West Virginia Democrats will be shut out of the state's U.S. House delegation for the first time in over 90 years. The Republican sweep by two-term incumbent David McKinley in the 1st CD, Mooney in the 2nd, and Evan Jenkins over Rahall in the 3rd marks the first time the GOP has held all seats in the chamber from West Virginia since the Election of 1920. During the 67th Congress (1921-1923) all six seats from the state were controlled by the GOP. Since the Election of 1922, Democrats have won 76 percent of all U.S. House elections in the Mountain State - capturing 172 seats compared to 54 for the GOP.


Home Field Advantage?

When the 114th Congress convenes in a few days, Maine will be represented by one home-grown U.S. Representative: Waterville-born Republican Bruce Poliquin. With the departure of Millinocket-born Mike Michaud, who launched a failed gubernatorial bid, the Pine Tree State was poised to send a House delegation to D.C. without any Maine-born members for the first time since 1821. Three-term U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree (born in Minnesota) coasted to reelection as expected, however Poliquin edged Kentucky-born Emily Cain by 5.3 points to keep the streak alive. Since 1876, a total of 208 of the 222 candidates elected to the nation's lower legislative chamber from the state have been born in Maine, or 94 percent.


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