This is Clinton country.

Democrats Can't Skip Iowa

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
Read More.
a | A

No, you can't skip the Iowa caucuses if you want to win the Democratic nomination for president.

Ed Kilgore, in the Washington Monthly, suggested you might want to consider a pass as a strategy against Hillary Clinton in 2016 -- "if, say, you're Bernie Sanders, saving the money and time for next-door New Hampshire is the obvious thing to do."

Yes, if you're running as a protest candidate, with a goal of raising a set of issues but no hope of winning the party nomination, then entering only a few targeted primaries might be effective. Even then, that strategy would presumably be helped by appearing in debates with Clinton, and it would be a lot easier for her to refuse pre-Iowa debates with a candidate not running there.

But a candidate who really wants to win the nomination would be nuts to skip Iowa.

First of all, skipping it runs the risk that someone else will do well (even if it means finishing second) and receive a favorable burst of publicity going into New Hampshire. Granted, if no one else is running against Clinton, that risk is reduced. But there's always the chance that someone else will opt in late, or that some protest or vanity candidate runs enough of a campaign to get noticed.

While Kilgore is correct that Iowa consumes resources, it is also a huge advertisement for the candidate -- which is needed to attract resources. The real hurdle for any candidate who takes on Clinton will be getting party actors to take the competition seriously. That isn't going to happen if a challenger begins by conceding the first contest.

What's more, while competing in Iowa is necessary, winning isn't. Unless something changes, expectations will be so high for Clinton that even a poor second might still give a challenger a chance. This would mean a candidate can compete in Iowa without committing to a fully funded, resource-depleting campaign and still hope to get a bit of a positive story there.

But skipping it entirely? It just won't work.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net