Not Everyone Will Survive Iowa : Political Junkie A change in the primary delegate rules may extend the battle for the Republican nomination into the spring. But, if history is a guide, some candidates may not survive the Iowa caucuses.
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Not Everyone Will Survive Iowa

Not Everyone Will Survive Iowa

Just as a seven-game World Series is far more rewarding to baseball fans than a four-game sweep, political junkies are much happier to observe an extended fight for the parties' presidential nomination than one that is wrapped up early. When that happens, we're faced with a dreary spring, which leads into a dreary summer and the often meaningless national conventions.

Both were gone on Iowa caucus night four years ago. Ken Rudin collection hide caption

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But while there is reason to hope that the Republican contest next year may extend into the spring months, there is a near certainty that some of the candidates may be gone from the race soon after the Iowa caucus results are in on Jan. 3, just over three weeks from now.

What was so exciting about the 2008 battle between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nod is that it gave states long ignored in the primary process – states so late in the calendar that the race is usually over by the time it reaches them – a voice in determining the winner. It's been a long time since you heard the words "April," "May" or "June" during the presidential primaries, but you certainly heard them in 2008. Clinton didn't end her candidacy until June 7.

2008 was a far cry from some other more recent Democratic contests. In 2000, Al Gore won the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary over rival Bill Bradley, and the race was essentially over before you knew it. Similarly, early victories by John Kerry in 2004 ended the battle for the nomination relatively soon, despite some signs of life from John Edwards and Howard Dean.

For Republicans, who have always had a winner-take-all delegate system, it's sometimes over even quicker. In 2008, John McCain went over the top in early March, ending that contest earlier than ever before in GOP history.

This year, to make it more interesting, the GOParty rules have changed, mandating that delegates in primaries held before April be awarded proportionally. It's probably not going to be enough for the battle to go on all the way into June – forget about the Ford vs. Reagan in '76 or Goldwater vs. Rockefeller in '64 convention skirmishes – but at least it's a start.

But for all the candidates who dream about advancing on to the contests in February, March and beyond, there will inevitably be those who don't make it past Iowa.

That was literally the case for two Democrats on caucus night 2008. Both Sens. Chris Dodd, who essentially moved his entire family to the Hawkeye State in hopes of bolstering his campaign, and Joe Biden ended their respective campaigns that night.

Iowa ended other candidacies as well.

One day after the 2004 caucuses, Dick Gephardt (D) quit the race. Two days after the 2000 caucuses, Orrin Hatch (R) withdrew. Phil Gramm (R) was gone two days after the 1996 caucuses.

If I were a betting man — and certainly not on the scale with Mitt Romney — I would think that the candidacies of both Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum are the most precarious in Iowa. The two have probably put more hours into the state than any other Republican candidate. But neither is especially well-funded, neither is in double digits in the polls, and neither has gotten the kind of media air and ink time their rivals have. They also don't have much going in New Hampshire (Jan. 10 primary), which makes Iowa that more crucial.

This verdict may be especially cruel to Bachmann, whose victory in the Ames straw poll back in August made her the ostensible frontrunner in the state; at the very least, it established her role as a player to be watched. But barring a miracle on Jan. 3, both she and Santorum may be forced to reassess their candidacies.

The Iowa Caucus process. I know what you're asking: Has Ken Rudin ever been in a video talking about the history of the caucuses and how they differ from a primary? The sad news is yes. Four years ago, in Iowa, NPR's John Poole and I put together this video that, surprisingly, was never a hit in Cannes. But you can still see it here:

Video: Iowa Caucus Primer
Video by John Poole, NPR

Watch Ken Rudin's Guide to the Iowa Caucuses

Trump debate: Hair today, gone tomorrow? Still no definitive word on whether the GOP debate scheduled for Dec. 27 in Des Moines and moderated by Donald Trump is still on. The inanity of the idea of having a debate be moderated by someone who is still talking about potentially running for president as an independent has apparently been shared by most of the Republican candidates, who announced they were withdrawing from the event for some good reasons, i.e., they came to their senses. As of this writing, just Santorum and Newt Gingrich are committed to appearing.

Candidates 2012. A Princeton Survey Research poll conducted by Univ/Mass-Lowell and the Boston Herald shows Elizabeth Warren, the likely Democratic nominee, with a 49-42% lead over GOP incumbent Scott Brown. Brown had a three-point lead in September. ... Bill Maloney, the West Virginia businessman who was the GOP nominee for governor against Earl Ray Tomblin (D) in the October special election to succeed now-Sen. Joe Manchin (D), announces he will seek the governorship again next year. ... Another former GOP gubernatorial candidate seeking a rematch is North Carolina's Pat McCrory, the former mayor of Charlotte who lost to now-Gov. Bev Perdue (D) in 2008. ... Colorado Democrats, who got a break with the new redistricting map approved by the state Supreme Court — a map that weakens the standing of GOP Rep. Mike Coffman — got more good news with the announcement that ex-House Speaker Andrew Romanoff will not challenge state Rep. Rep. Joe Miklosi for the party nod in the 6th CD. Coffman still remains the favorite, but it's no longer a slam dunk. ... The surprise announcement by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) that he won't seek re-election was first greeted by an enormous list of which candidates in the newly-drawn 4th District might jump into the race as his successor. But their plans have been placed on hold as everyone is waiting for a decision by Joseph P. Kennedy III, the 31 year old son of former Rep. Joe Kennedy II (and grandson of RFK).

Political Updates. I post periodic political updates during the week on Twitter. You can follow me at @kenrudin. Meanwhile, here's some mail from my in-box:

Q: You have two former governors [Tim Kaine and George Allen] running for the Senate [in Virginia] next year. Has that ever happened before? — Ted O'Brien, Charlottesville, Va.

A: It happened at least twice before, and both were also in Virginia. In 2000, the Senate race was between incumbent Democrat Chuck Robb and Republican challenger George Allen, a race won by Allen. Both were former governors. And in 2008, in another Senate battle between two former governors, Mark Warner (D) defeated Jim Gilmore (R).

Q: What were the political ramifications, if any, for the U.S. when Svetlana Stalin defected in 1967? Did we reap a huge propaganda victory? — Allison Walters, Providence, R.I.

A: The April 1967 defection of Svetlana Stalin, the only daughter of the late Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, was a clear propaganda victory for the U.S. But it was also a touchy issue for President Johnson, who went out of his way to not make the incident an embarrassment for Moscow. LBJ was already preparing to meet with Russian Premier Kosygin in Glassboro, N.J., in June, and didn't want the defection to become a distraction. (When she defected and denounced her father — calling him a "moral and spiritual monster" — Kosygin dismissed her as "morally unstable" and a "sick person.")

Somehow I suspect this was not a pro-RFK button. Ken Rudin collection hide caption

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Aside from this unusual campaign button, her defection never became part of the Democrat vs. Republican dynamic that is so part of today's political culture. But at the time it was devastating news for the Kremlin, who had to listen to her taunts and denunciations for the next several years. She also appeared on Voice of America radio, gushing over her new-found freedom. Still, any lasting propaganda victory was short-lived, as Svetlana Alliluyeva — she took her mother's last name and then became Lana Peters years after coming here — wasn't crazy about the American way of life either. Lonely and bored, she returned to Moscow in 1984, only to return to the U.S. less than two years later. She died on Nov. 22 in Wisconsin at age 85.

Oops. Last week's column had a question about the longest gap between terms as governor. The writer mentioned Terry Branstad of Iowa, who left the governorship after 1998 and came back to win again in 2010. I said that Jerry Brown of California had a much longer gap, leaving after 1982 and then returning in 2010, a span of 28 years. (I also mentioned Walter Hickel of Alaska, who left the governorship in 1969 and winning it again in 1990.)

Elected in 1956 and again in 1996. Ken Rudin collection hide caption

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Ken Rudin collection

But if the question was who had the longest hiatus, then it would have been Cecil Underwood. The West Virginia Republican was first elected governor in 1956 at the age of 34. He won his second term 40 years later — in 1996. I failed to think of Underwood, but David Kuhn of Bethesda, Md.; Steven Smith of Nashville, Tenn.; and Allen Robinson of Charlottesville, Va. all wrote in with the answer. Allen adds another fun fact: that Donald Rumsfeld was both the youngest and oldest secretary of defense. He was 43 when he served in President Gerald Ford's Cabinet and left George W. Bush's administration at age 74.

And here's one reaction to last week's main theme, the Herman Cain implosion and the "improbable" rise of Gingrich. This note about Gingrich is from Laurie Larson of Princeton, N.J.:

Oh, Ken! "Improbable" ??? "Nobody saw this coming" ??? First, I give you your Political Junkie column from June 20, 2010, about Gingrich plotting the GOP comeback against the "radical" Obama. Surely you aren't really surprised that Newt is the last man standing. I have been pointing out to friends since early 2010 that Newt was the most dangerous Republican contender, despite the media frenzy about [Sarah] Palin at the time. I never felt he was out of it even after that Greek cruise. He has the experience, the name recognition, the money, and his own publishing "empire." And he's got the "Teflon" factor, unlike Romney, which lets him flip and flop around until the public gets tired of trying to figure it out (if they cared in the first place), and just pays attention to the overall image he projects on the latest TV debate.

Political Junkie segment on Talk of the Nation. Each Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET, the Political Junkie segment appears on Talk of the Nation (NPR's call-in program), hosted by Neal Conan with me adding color commentary, where you can, sometimes, hear interesting conversation, useless trivia questions, and sparkling jokes. Last week's show focused on the rise of Newt Gingrich with special guest Michael Gerson, the former Bush speechwriter and current op-ed columnist with the Washington Post. You can listen to the entire segment right here:

Wednesday's Junkie segment on TOTN

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And Don't Forget ScuttleButton. ScuttleButton, America's favorite waste-of-time button puzzle, can be found in this spot every Wednesday. A randomly-selected winner will be announced each week during the Political Junkie segment on NPR's Talk of the Nation. It's not too late to enter last week's contest, which you can see here. Not only is there incredible joy in deciphering the answer, but the winner gets a TOTN t-shirt! DON'T FORGET TO CHECK BACK HERE ON WEDNESDAY FOR THE NEW PUZZLE.

Podcast. There's also a new episode of our weekly podcast, "It's All Politics," every Thursday. It's hosted by my partner-in-crime, Ron Elving, and me. You can listen to the latest episode here:

Not Everyone Will Survive Iowa

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Dec. 15 — GOP debate, Sioux City, Iowa (Fox, 9 pm ET).

Dec. 27 — GOP debate in Des Moines, hosted by Donald Trump.

Dec. 28 — Talk of the Nation/Political Junkie from Des Moines.


Jan. 4 — Talk of the Nation/Political Junkie from New Hampshire.

Jan. 7 — GOP debate, N.H. (ABC, 9 pm ET).

Jan. 8 — GOP debate, Concord, N.H. (NBC's Meet the Press, 9 am ET).


Jan. 16 — GOP debate, Myrtle Beach, S.C. (Fox, 9 pm ET).

Jan. 19 — GOP debate, Charleston, S.C. (CNN).


Jan. 23 — GOP debate, Tampa, Fla. (NBC).

Jan. 25 — Talk of the Nation/Political Junkie from Orlando, Fla.

Jan. 26 — GOP debate, Jacksonville, Fla. (CNN).


Mailing list. To receive a weekly email alert about the new column and ScuttleButton puzzle, contact me at

******* Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please include your city and state. *********

This day in political history: President-elect John F. Kennedy announces that Dean Rusk, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, is his choice to be the next Secretary of State. He also names Adlai Stevenson, a two-time Democratic presidential nominee and a Kennedy rival for the nomination this year, as Ambassador to the United Nations. Rep. Chester Bowles (D-Conn.), who did not seek re-election, is named Under-Secretary of State (Dec. 12, 1960).

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: