Early States’ Influence in the 2008 Presidential Election

Many have said the frontloading of the primary schedule in the ’08 presidential election has only increased the significance of the early states, such as Iowa and New Hampshire. A candidate winning in Iowa or New Hampshire could ride that momentum into significant victories on Tsunami Tuesday, when large states such as California, New York, and New Jersey hold their primaries.

However, there is still more than enough time for any momentum to be dulled. In 1988 on the Democratic side, the long-shot Dick Gephardt triumphed in the Iowa caucus over Mike Dukakis and Paul Simon. In response, Dukakis and Al Gore directed a slew of negative ads toward Gephardt. Eight days after Iowa, in the New Hampshire primary, Dukakis won with 36.4% to Gephardt’s 20.3%. In this ’08 cycle, there are still eight days between Iowa (1/14) and New Hampshire (1/22) , enough time for a candidate’s campaign to stall.

In the 2000 Republican primaries, John McCain had a stunning victory in New Hampshire, beating George Bush (winner of the Iowa caucus) by 18%. Then, eighteen days later in South Carolina, McCain had a reversal of fortunes, suffering an 11-point defeat to Bush. The Bush campaign had plenty of time to use their questionable tactics to quell McCain’s momentum. This presidential election, there are fourteen days between New Hampshire and Tsunami Tuesday (2/5). Although shorter than the distance in 2000, those two weeks still pack tremendous importance and can derail a campaign.

Although primaries and caucuses have shifted earlier in the nominating calendar, there is still enough time between contests for change in the standings to occur. Momentum carried from victories in early states is certainly a benefit but can be blunted in the succeeding days.

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