Iowa Caucuses are weird, or why Sam Brownback should be taken seriously

In 2000, the Iowa Caucus results were:

Candidate %
Bush 41
Forbes 30
Keyes 14
Bauer 9
McCain 5

Only 2 of the top 5 candidates were even serious contenders in later states. Fifty-four percent of the vote went to people who were clearly dead in the water. (and 5% went to a guy who didn’t campaign in the state). The 3 candidates that earned 54% were all candidates of the religious right. This is not mysterious. I have not been to Iowa in January, but it is cold. Investment bankers don’t go drive in the cold to stand in a room for hours at a time.

There are several implications here. First, electability may not matter so much to actual Iowa caucusgoers. On the other hand, organization does. And, third, the religious vote does. As I have noted before, Sam Brownback and John McCain have split the major pro-life activists. Mitt Romney is working on the county chairmen. Rudy Giuliani probably has to fight with Romney for the County Chairmen apparatus and with McCain for the moderates, as many as actually come. And Mike Huckabee will share the fight for religious conservatives.

The upshot is that Sam Brownback could credibly knock off one of the three front runners, McCain, Giuliani, and Romney. Huckabee’s entrance may make that harder. But we can assume that there will be a 4th-place finish for a GOP frontrunner in Iowa, effectively killing his candidacy. Who will it be? And does Huckabee’s entrance make that less likely by taking votes from Brownback? Or does he also take votes from Romney?