The Rachel Maddow Show | January 02, 2012
>>> the single most entertaining ad to come out of iowa this political season was released today. it was made by a couple of iowa filmmakers named scott sipker and paul benedict . it's called " iowa nice."
>> so i hear you think you know something about iowa . [ bleep ] you. you've heard we're a bunch of knee jerk conservative reactionaries. i guess that's why we went democratic in five out of the last six presidential elections . how do you like me now? did your state legalize gay marriage before us? probably not. the first woman in america to become a lawyer was in iowa . in 1869 . you think we're all hillbillies. well, four out of five of us live in cities, punk. iowa has the sixth lowest unemployment in the nation. des moines is ranked the richest metro in the country and the second happiest. guess you can't have it all. so stop worrying about what we know and spend a little more time on what you don't know. the next time you fly over , give us a wave. we'll wave back. we're nice. that's right. we're nice. [ bleep ] wad. i'm out.
>> thank you, funny foul mouthed iowa nice guy . it is important even on days when it is this exciting to be covering republican politics in iowa , and i am a little overexcited, i'm sorry. it's important to remember what iowa foul mouthed nice guy said there about iowa 's rather democratic character these days. iowa has indeed gone blue in five of the past six presidential elections . whether or not it's directly related, it's also worth noting the democratic caucuses in iowa tend to pick the candidate who goes on to become the democratic nominee. the republican caucuses for president in iowa do not tend to pick the candidate who goes on to be the republican nominee. over the past 30 years when there's not a republican incumbent, here's what the republican record has looked like in iowa . they only got it right twice. look at the democratic record. again, over the past 30 years when there's not an incumbent. they only got it wrong twice. democrats in iowa over the past three decades have tended to pick their party's nominee. republicans on the other hand have tended to pick huckabees. they tend to not be representative of what republicans nationally are thinking. the iowa results have just not been predictive on the republican side . so why do we pay so much attention to the republican contest in iowa ? first of all, it's first. and we're distracted by shiny objects. the candidates do spend tens of millions of dollars competing in iowa . so there's that. but if it doesn't tell you anything about who the nominee is going to be, there has to be some other reason why it is a big deal . part of the common wisdom about why it is still a big deal is that there's this theory that iowa may not pick the winner on the republican side , but at least it has a way of picking the losers on either side. one part of the common wisdom is iowa separates out the candidates who are viable from the candidates who don't have a prayer and the ones who don't have a prayer will drop out of the race after losing big in iowa . in 1996 , republican senator phil gramm dropped out of the race after a poor finish in the iowa caucuses . to be fair, he had been disappointed in louisiana which committed political blasphemy and caucused before iowa that year. no 2000 , orrin hatch dropped out of the race after finishing last in the iowa caucuses . in 2004 , congressman democrat dick gephardt dropped out after finishing fourth in iowa . chris dodd and joe biden dropped out of the '08 race after losing big in iowa . lamar alexander , now a senator, dropped out of the 2000 presidential race in 1999 . after a disappointing finish in the ames, iowa , straw poll which is kind of a fake thing. he didn't make it to the real voting. republican tommy thompson , former wisconsin governor , did the same thing in twe2007 heading into the 2008 race as did former minnesota governor tim pawlenty . remember when tim pawlenty was running for president last year? that was fun. iowa can narrow the field on both sides. it can cause people to quit. this year, the candidates you could see as being least viable, if they don't do well in iowa , at least don't appear to be prepared to drop out as the result of a bad showing. newt gingrich , for example, says he knows he won't win in iowa but he definitely won't drop out no matter how he places. he's already announced his campaign plans for after he says he will loose iowa . rick perry and michele bachmann announced post- iowa events will be. both signaling they won't drop out. maybe iowa won't exactly narrow down the field this time around. another thesis about what the iowa caucuses are good for on the republican side , and this is statistically sound. this was advanced by nate silver at "the new york times" this year. that is that iowa does not tell you who is going to be the nominee but tells you something about who's going to win the next contest in new hampshire . new hampshire can tell you something about who's going to be the nominee. again, this year is a little bit year. michele bachmann and rick perry when they talked about their post- iowa events have not been talking much about new hampshire at all. their first events after iowa they've announced have them heading straight to south carolina , bypassing new hampshire . common wisdom among the candidates right now is new hampshire is so far from being a competitive race, mitt romney has essentially locked it up. given the likelihood of losing big in iowa tomorrow, they plan on more or less ignoring the granite state and going straight south, starting all over again in south carolina . given all that, what is left, what is the most consequential result that could possibly come out of tomorrow's republican results in iowa ? joining us now to help us figure it out is nate silver . author of the 538 electoral politics blog at "the new york times." thank you for being here.
>> thank you, rachel.
>> did i get anything wrong there?
>> no, good.
>> iowa can predict new hampshire and new hampshire can predict the nominee?
>> it's kind of like chaos theory where a butterfly flaps its wings in des moines and it revush rates to concord. it's a tenuous predictor of future success.
>> looking at the results heading into that, with that caveat that it may tell us nothing other than iowa . what do you see as the state of the polls right now for tomorrow?
>> you really do, i think, have very nearly a three-way tossup where mitt romney leads in the plurality of polls but rick santorum is closing and ron paul is only a point or so behind in the polling average from mitt romn romney . in a general election , a point is not much. in a caucus where the polls can be off by five on ten points, it's a small advantage, indeed. romney needs to be careful expectations aren't getting too far ahead of themselves. i'd say he has about a 40% chance of winning and maybe 20% or 30% for the other two candidates.
>> in terms of the results of iowa , spoken broadly, it has a lot to do not just with your num rative result but also the relationship of that result to expectations.
>> yeah, if you look at what predicts the balance you get to new hampshire , it has to do with how you out-perform your polling more than the absolute standing. if you get, if, for example, in rick perry -- i don't think he'll do this -- but if he were to get 20% of the vote tomorrow, he's polling at 10%, he might get a huge balance. that probably wouldn't help him in new hampshire where he's too far behind . he might become the front-runner in south carolina . that's why it's very hard to predict the spin that will result. it's precisely what you don't know. the media narrative and momentum going on to new hampshire an the other states.
>> in terms -- the sense is it's not competitive. mitt romney put together a prohibitive lead in new hampshire . is that true?
>> it's a relatively safe lead. we have to keep in mind 198 waltzer mondale had a lead of 25 or 30 points in new hampshire over gary hart and hart finished second in iowa but got the media spin. he came back and won new hampshire . ronald reagan nearly lost the big lead to george h.w. bush but came back near the end to recover. if you have, for example, romney finishing in a distant third place tomorrow night or fourth place, that would be so far below expectations that you can't spin that result favorably. and romney would become more vulnerable. the problem, though, is a candidate like rick santorum is not someone who would be a natural fit for new hampshire . the best new hampshire candidate might be a jon huntsman , for instance, but he's not competing in iowa . his campaign is too much of a moderate to win over the evangelical vote there. you don't have any candidate but romney who can pull off this one-two parlay in the first two states.
>> i don't want to get too hypothetical, although that's what this whole discussion is i guess. it's predictive and hypothetical. if predictions prove to be, or polling proves to be roughly in line with the results in iowa and new hampshire , and we get sort of a three-way cluster tomorrow in iowa and romney wins pretty big in new hampshire . if that happens, are you already looking ahead to south carolina in terms of its predictive ability and who is likely to run strongest there as a determinative race?
>> that would be romney 's first opportunity to close romney has good states after that in florida where the older vote tends to like him. gingrich is fading a little bit. in february, he has michigan, another good state for him. there are a lot of good romney states on the calendar. he lives in, like, half the states in the country pretty much. doesn't go too long before you have a home court advantage . nevada also has caucuses in early february. he has a lot of opportunities to look good as you go through the calendar.
>> yet another advantage of being a zillionaire. nate silver . author of the 538 blog at "the new york times." i expect we'll be back talking