Had we taken at face value the Iowa poll released "just hours before caucusing" began, according to CNN, we just might have been persuaded that Donald Trump actually was ahead of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and that Bernie Sanders actually enjoyed a "very narrow edge" over Hillary Clinton.
As it turned out, Trump, the billionaire reality show personality, was clearly bested by Cruz. And Clinton clung to a minuscule margin over Sanders with nearly all the votes counted.
Now a single caucus, held in a state with a small population, can hardly be viewed today as a harbinger of caucuses and primaries to come. Yet, because the Hawkeye State is first in the nation to award delegates to both Republican and Democratic presidential hopefuls, it's a big deal.
Indeed, it was Barack Obama's unexpected victory eight years ago in the Iowa Caucus that gave the newby Illinois senator the momentum that ultimately led him all the way to the Democratic presidential nomination over Clinton -- the former first lady and former U.S. senator from New York -- who was the party's presumed standard-bearer.
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With her razor-thin margin over Sen. Sanders as of press time, Clinton went a long way to exorcising her political demons of 2008. And on the other side of the aisle, Cruz went Holly Holm on The Donald, proving him no more unbeatable than was Ronda Rousey.
That's not to say that the chalk will prevail in both the Republican and Democratic nominating contests. Indeed, in a CNN/WMUR poll released over the weekend, both Trump and Sanders were out in front in New Hampshire, the next state in which the presidential hopefuls in both parties will vie for delegates.
But Iowa matters a lot, as Nate Silver, the gimlet-eyed psephologist, noted Monday.
Among other reasons, he posited, it affects the tome and volume of media coverage. It generates a "bandwagon effect." It sends a signal to "party elites and helps them coordinate on a candidate. It winnows the field -- as happened Monday with Democrat Martin O'Malley and Republican Mike Huckabee. And it's a glimpse of whether polls match the reality on the ground.
We have seen these phenomena work for upstart candidates who made it all the way to the White House. Like Jimmy Carter in 1976 and, again, Obama in 2008. But we also have seen it work against presidential hopefuls who, like the mythical Icarus, had their moments in the sun before falling back to Earth.
Indeed, in September 2011, then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry was the presidential preference of 31 percent of Republicans, 7 points higher than his nearest rival, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll. By January 2012, Perry bowed out of the race.
And in September 2007, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was the favorite of 30 percent of Republicans, according to a Gallup Poll, 8 points ahead of his rivals. Yet, in January 2008, Guiliani bowed out of the race.
The beginning of the end for the ill-fated campaigns of both Perry and Guiliani came in the Hawkeye State. And while we do not expect either Trump or Sanders to suffer similarly precipitous declines, if either fails to win New Hampshire, as the pollsters currently foresee, we do not expect that candidate to make it to California's June primary.
As to Cruz and Clinton, they've got the Iowa effect Silver identified working in their favor. Cruz can be considered the GOP co-front-runner with Trump (at least until New Hampshire). And Clinton can point to Iowa as prima facie evidence that she is the Democrat most likely to succeed Obama in the White House.
We're pleased that at least some Republican has given Trump a serious challenge for the GOP presidential nomination, though, we admit, Cruz wasn't our first (or even second) choice. And we find ourselves rooting for Sanders, because we do not relish the idea of Clinton cruising to her party's presidential nomination.
We'd like to see a robust presidential race in both parties. And Iowa has made for a good start.