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Tuesday, January 1, 2008

The role of Bill Richardson in Iowa

Believe it: Bill Richardson can, and probably will, decide who wins Iowa.

It is unlikely, at this stage, that Richardson will win the state--while that's obviously his goal, I think the campaign would be ecstatic with a third or second place finish. There may be just a candidate or two too many to leap to claim victory.

However, that doesn't mean he can't have a profound impact on who wins the state. Iowa has an unusual caucus system: in order to have their votes counted in one of Iowa's 1784 districts, a candidate must receive 15% or more of the vote. If a candidate does not get 15% of the vote, then his supporters are free to vote again for someone who does reach the 15% threshold.

This where the second-tier candidates can decide who wins each district--they can direct their voters to some other candidate. Voters, of course, are not obligated to follow such orders, but in the past, they have generally complied with their candidate's wishes. And, all of a sudden, a district can swing from one front runner to another.

Hypothetical example: Hillary Clinton received 31% of the vote in District A. Barack Obama got 35%. John Edwards has 18%. Obama has seemingly eeked out a close victory, but wait! Joe Biden, who received 11% of the vote, instructs his supporters to vote for Clinton. Some do, and Clinton ends up edging Obama by a few points.

Bill Richardson will receive 15% + of the vote in many districts, but certainly not all of them. As the leading second-tier candidate, he'll likely have the most voters to give in the districts where he doesn't reach the 15% margin. So, who will he direct his people to vote for?

Dennis Kucinich has already told his supporters to support Obama in the districts where Kucinich doesn't qualify. But Kucinich is a third-tier candidate, and unless the race is exceptionally tight, he doesn't figure to make much of a difference. The people who can change the tide of the election are Biden, Richardson and maybe Chris Dodd. Of that group, Richardson will have the most to give.

So what does he do? He's been a long political ally of the Clintons, despite his recent negative comments on Hillary, so does he send his people her way? It's also been rumored that Richardson is Clinton's top choice for Vice-President--would he give her his people as an act of good will to secure that nomination? Or, will he concentrate on becoming president, and thus send his voters toward Obama/Edwards in attempt to stop Clinton from winning Iowa and thus halt her momentum going into New Hampshire, Michigan and Nevada, where she is leading? By doing the latter, he can create more parity at the top of the Democratic race, which leaves the door open to more high-finishes for Richardson.

No matter what he chooses, the Markos Zuniga, the founder of the Daily Kos, feels that "Richardson will get to play kingmaker."

Iraq is Richardson's main issue, and Edwards's views on the conflict come closest to matching Richardson's--Clinton's are far off. It'll be interesting to see what happens.


EDIT: The Daily Kos (different writer this time) agrees again re: Richardson's "kingmaker" status.

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