By Joseph R. Gunderson
The presidential election of 2016 heats up as the candidates, three Democrats and twelve Republicans, prepare for the grueling process that will narrow the field down to two candidates, one of each respective party, to face one another in the 58th presidential election in November. The competitive process, known as the primary season, will pit each candidate against the other candidates within his or her own party that will allow voters in every state to cast their choice for each party’s nominee. While the primary season historically has drawn fewer voters to the polls compared to the general election, it has a significant impact in framing the outcome of the campaigning process. It all begins in February 2016, when both the Republican and Democratic parties undergo the first primary elections: the Iowa Precinct Caucuses and the New Hampshire Presidential Primary.
According to polling data, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders are the frontrunners of the Democratic primary election, with Clinton leading Sanders nationally, but Sanders leading Clinton in the early voting state of New Hampshire, while the two retain a fragile tie in Iowa. On the Republican side, businessman Donald Trump is the clear frontrunner nationally, but is also locked in a tug-of-war struggle to claim the lead in Iowa with national runner-up candidate Ted Cruz, a US Senator from Texas. While the party frontrunners have maintained somewhat friendly toward one another throughout most of the primary season, the gloves are coming off with days to go between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.
Since the day she announced her candidacy, Hillary Clinton was the clear favorite among Democratic voters, maintaining a strong lead over her competitors, even in the wake of an ongoing investigation into her use of a private server during her tenure as Secretary of State. While she has held a strong lead with a campaign focused on social issues, Sanders has steadily climbed in the polls, and has recently sparred with the former Secretary of State over campaign finance and progressive tax reform. While Clinton’s lead is definitely strong nationally, her loss in support in Iowa and New Hampshire could turn the tables on her during the primary season, which would near-inevitably duplicate the outcome of her bid for the democratic nomination against then-Senator Barack Obama in 2008. Clinton, now the democratic establishment’s candidate of choice, once again faces threats from an outsider candidate. It is no surprise that the once friendly relationship between Senator Sanders and the former Secretary has gotten increasingly hostile.
The Republicans have had no success in putting an establishment candidate forward. Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are first and second nationally, with Trump holding a strong lead in New Hampshire, and squeezing out a close contest in Iowa, as well as Texas and California. While many GOP mega-donors are coming to accept the possibility of Donald Trump as the Republican nominee, losing to Cruz in Iowa could result in losses in Texas and California for the New York business mogul, given his narrow lead in the large states, both of which share a large prize of delegate votes essential to winning the nomination. While leading in the national polls by double-digits, Trump’s massive lead might not be enough to absorb a loss in an early voting state like Iowa, testifying to the long season ahead that the election is far from over. On the campaign trail, both candidates have framed themselves as outsiders, and even teamed up on one occasion to host a rally in Washington DC to stop President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran. As voting is set to begin, however, their cordial relationship has ended quickly. The words exchanged between the two frontrunners at the recent GOP Presidential debate hosted by Fox Business confirmed that both candidates were in it to win it, officially breaking their truce as they attacked one another over issues of the past including Cruz’s eligibility for the Presidency and Trump’s adoption of “New York values.” Because both candidates agree on many of their policy proposals, their exchanges are often regarding actions of the past, and may have repercussions on either, since both candidates share many of the same supporters.
Winning the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire can certainly turn the tide for a primary season, but doesn’t always guarantee a pathway to victory. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum won the Iowa caucuses in 2008 and 2012, respectively, but didn’t end up securing the Republican Party nomination. In Santorum’s case, however, he was in last place in the national polls at the time of the caucus, and winning the key battleground state allowed him to win enough delegate votes to finish second by the end of the primary race behind Mitt Romney, the eventual nominee. The battle to win the presidency bolsters both parties, alliances will fall and attacks will get more personal as the frontrunners brawl to turn their high poll numbers into meaningful voter support.