Ping (zestyping) wrote,

What happened in Iowa?

Most of the people reading this will probably already have heard me say most of these things, but i'll post them here just to get them down in writing and offer a place for discussing them.

Here's why Dean didn't do well in Iowa, in my opinion:

  1. Negative advertising. Dean and Gephardt wrestled each other into the mud. Gephardt's attacks were worse (such as the infamous bin Laden ad, an ad attacking Dean as anti-medicare, and a tabloid-style smear website at, but Dean took the bait, and when he started sending negative mailings that attacked Kerry and Gephardt by name, he put himself in the same category. Many Dean supporters reacted angrily to this move, and they were right. The Iowans punished him for it.

  2. Lack of caucus training. This poll gives you some idea of the picture on the way in. But the caucus process is about as far from a secret ballot as you can get. To register a vote for your candidate, you have to stand your ground in front of other people, even while your friends might walk away or try to convince you to move. Plenty of people decide their vote only on the day of the caucus, and many even change their minds at the event itself. After the first count, if any candidate doesn't meet a threshold number of voters, that candidate is declared "non-viable" and his supporters can move over to other candidates. Winning over the supporters of non-viable candidates is crucial. Dean's campaign had plenty of volunteers, but they simply didn't know how to play the game. We assumed that Kucinich supporters would come over to Dean when they were non-viable — but they didn't, because Edwards and Kucinich made a deal. And when Gephardt became non-viable, persuasive precinct captains for Kerry and Edwards wooed his supporters.

  3. Reliance on an application service provider. You're likely to have heard the first two reasons from other pundits, but this part of the story is less often told. The Dean campaign relied on an ASP to develop and host its voter database. The week before the primary, the database became unusably slow and crashed several times, losing data and spreading panic. Thereafter, the data entry process fell apart: some people were entering data using a web form, others were typing their records into Excel spreadsheets, and — unbelievably — others were copying data records out on paper by hand. Stacks of information on hard-earned Dean supporters were never entered, and other Dean supporters were annoyed because we called them twice by mistake. If the story gets out, it may go down in history as another famous case of a software problem with severe repercussions. The software was written by developers at external company who probably had hardly any campaign experience, so it failed to meet the needs of the volunteers and campaign staff. And because it was developed outside, no one within the campaign had the knowledge or access to fix it. I even heard that the stress of dealing with the campaign and the software problems caused several employees at the company to quit. On top of it all, of course, paying this company also cost a lot of money. It comes down to the core problem i've been complaining about over and over: the software development teams are not connected to their users. Campaign software must be written by people with serious campaign experience, or at the very least with their input.

After the results were in, as you know, Dean's speech didn't do him much good. I think there was nothing wrong with getting volunteers pumped up after a disappointment; Dean was clearly having a good time. But the newspapers and television shows saw an opportunity for sensationalism, and burned him alive for it. Dean is not a violent person — he's against the war, after all. Yet the relentless repetition of his yell out of context has convinced some folks that he's too "unstable" to be allowed near the big red button, because they can't tell the difference between exuberance and violence.

Dean is more vulnerable to the media than the other candidates because he isn't calculating his behaviour all the time. Sadly, this may turn out to be his Achilles heel. Edwards won Iowa with his charm and smooth talking, but don't forget his vocal support for the war. The lead that he enjoys over Dean is a triumph of style over substance.

This thread over at the Daily Kos has a lot of great discussion on all the candidates. I think the future of the Dean campaign depends on a strong second-place finish in New Hampshire. Dean has surged very close to Kerry — within less than ten points in some polls — so there's hope yet.

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