Unlike nailbiters from years past, the winner of the first presidential election contest of 2024 was not much of a contest. As expected, former President Donald Trump emerged victorious from the Iowa caucuses in a big way. The race was called barely a half hour after the process began.
The outcome was never in doubt. At one point last fall in a Wall Street Journal survey, Trump came close to 60 percent on the ballot, and he finished with a 30-point win on Monday night.
It’s poised to be a different story in New Hampshire’s first in the nation primary, where the polls show a more competitive race now just seven days away.
In Iowa, Trump enjoyed a 33 point lead in the polls, according to the Real Clear Politics average – close to the final number. In New Hampshire, the margin is less than half that number, with just 14% separating Trump from former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. The recent departure from the race by former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was running a strong third in the Granite State and whose voters are now up for grabs, further adds to the intrigue.
Here are three takeaways from Iowa that could further shape the New Hampshire outlook.
One of the untold stories of the 2024 contest has been the rapid pace of consolidation. In 2016, the Iowa GOP caucus had nine serious candidates vying for the prize; in 2024, three candidates took more than 90 percent of the vote in Iowa.
Tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy’s decision to drop out on Monday night leaves just three candidates standing, with the race for second place continuing.
Having placed most of his chips in the Hawkeye State, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis entered Iowa facing questions about his viability. With a second place finish, he got his “ticket punched out of Iowa,” as he told his supporters.
Yet unlike Iowa, where his “Full Grassley” tour of all 99 counties and the support of the state’s popular Republican governor Kim Reynolds, attracted attention, DeSantis lacks institutional advantages in New Hampshire.
He is polling in the single digits. DeSantis already made waves earlier for announcing that he plans to head directly to South Carolina after Iowa rather than New Hampshire.
The largest voting bloc of voters (40%) are unenrolled and do not belong to either party. Not only can these independents vote in the Republican primary, they have multiple reasons to do so, courtesy of the Biden White House.
First, Biden’s job approval in New Hampshire, a state he carried handily over Trump, is stuck in the low 40s. Second, he is not even appearing on the Democratic ballot because of his stubborn refusal to honor the state’s first in the nation primary tradition. If you’re an independent voter looking to make a difference in the 2024 race, you’ve got nothing to play for on the Democratic side, and just the opposite on the Republican field.
Haley caught some flak from DeSantis when she told a group of New Hampshire voters that they “correct” Iowa’s results, but her statement is supported by recent history. Remember Presidents Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum or Ted Cruz, the last three winners of the Iowa caucuses? Neither do the history books.
One must travel back nearly a quarter-century to the year 2000 to find the last winner of the GOP Iowa caucuses who went on to secure the nomination.
No doubt, the former President Trump remains the clear frontrunner for the Republican Party nomination. Monday night’s win may not have been surprising but it broke records all the same.
A one-on-one race is a different story, and a situation Trump never faced in the 2016 contest, where he always reaped the benefits of a large and fractured field.
New Hampshire will have a lot to say about the prospect of that scenario happening, or whether the locomotive that left the station in Iowa has become a runaway train.