Voters in New Hampshire and other early primary states have an inspiring model to follow in Iowa.
In a development as invigorating as the frigid temperatures in which Iowans caucused this week, Demo- crats there defied every political norm imaginable.
They turned their backs on the predictions of the pundits, the polls, and the media and gathered in near-record numbers to assert their own unexpected views on who are the strongest Demo- crats to go up against President Bush in the fall.
A few weeks ago, Howard Dean was generally seen by the political community as the favorite to win. He had consistently led the polls, and promised superior and youthful organization in a state whose caucuses require a lot of knocking on doors. Then the political chattering class changed its view: Now it was going to be Dean neck and neck with Rep. Richard Gephardt, who also had an impressive organization on the ground. In the latter days of the campaign, the two duked it out in a slug fest of negative ads.
But neither organization, nor conventional wisdom, nor negativity (which actually has a track record of short-term effectiveness) held up before the admirable scrutiny of Iowans.
They rejected the one-dimensional campaigns of the angry, antiwar Dean and the free-trade-busting Gephardt, who has now bowed out of the race. Instead, Iowa's Democrats seemed to endorse two candidates - the experienced John Kerry, and the Southerner with integrity, John Edwards - for their ability to beat George W. Bush in November. Both men had been lagging in the polls until their last-minute surge.
Of course, Iowa is notorious for its inconsistency in selecting the eventual nominee. That's why candidates Wesley Clark and Sen. Joseph Lieberman chose to skip that state, and instead concentrate on New Hampshire.
Thanks to the Iowa upset, as well as the Clark and Lieberman strategies, the winnowing process could last a while, providing a greater opportunity to learn more about the remaining candidates and how different regions of the United States view them.
Voters in other primary states need to bring the same scrutiny that Iowan Democrats brought to their choices. Unlike the peace and prosperity election of 2000, when Al Gore and George Bush were accused of being too similar, the nation faces a crossroads on major issues, from war and foreign policy, to taxes and jobs. The country owes itself a debate. By sending three strong candidates to New Hampshire (Dean still has dollars, troops, and standing there), the caucuses have told the nation just that.