Zero-for-2 on Iowa picks, but national disrespect for Nevada appears to be a lock

That was quick. The first of my predictions for 2008 — that Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney would win Thursday’s Iowa caucuses — were cut down like rows of corn.

As a Democrat, I can’t help but jump on the Mike Huckabee bandwagon and root like heck for another presidential nominee from Hope, Ark. But as a Nevadan flipping between Thursday’s coverage on CNN and Fox News, I got a big Palmetto bug stuck in my throat.

In theory, the Iowa contests set up Nevada as the first diverse test of candidates on either side of the aisle. But there were CNN’s John King and Wolf Blitzer, both of whom stressed the importance of Nevada’s mid-November Democratic debate way back then, skipping right over our Jan. 19 caucuses to focus on South Carolina.

No mention of Nevada from former Al Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile. Yet for 11 days after Tuesday’s primary in New Hampshire, all of the Democrats who still remain will be stomping through the Silver State, looking for an edge from Alamo to Zephyr Cove — the black vote in South Carolina notwithstanding.

There is little doubt that New Hampshire’s results will be different from Iowa’s. It’s hard to imagine such strong performances by Huckabee or Democrat John Edwards once the satellite trucks head east to Manchester.

Once again, I underestimated the fervor by which evangelical Christians take the passion of the rapture to vote with them. My prediction that Romney’s organization would trump the good preacher’s guitar playing overlooked just how much someone’s faith does matter in the Republican nomination process.

When Huckabee says he knows “where this thing will end,” his voters think more about Armageddon than the general election.

Evangelicals dislike Mormons even more than they hate Catholics. If Romney can’t overcome McCain in New Hampshire, a low-tax state where Romney has a second home, he won’t have to worry about whether he’s paid the electric bills for his offices in Nevada — the lights will still go out.

Because I was bold enough to enter the Iowa prediction fray (unlike colleagues who chose the safer option of staying quiet), I am also bold enough to admit my errors. I had Romney and Huckabee flipped, as many fiscally conservative Republicans saw it. I’m still at a loss to see how either of them get the party’s nomination.

On the Democratic side, I thought Edwards’ organization from 2004 and strategy of picking up the Chris Dodd, Joe Biden and Bill Richardson voters in the second balloting would be enough to put him into second place. I just didn’t figure he would be behind Barack Obama.

Perhaps that’s because I didn’t follow through with my 2004 Kerry analogy properly. I predicted Clinton would win because she had initially led the polls there and, as a result, voters would finally settle on her. But what gave Kerry the ultimate edge in 2004 wasn’t just that he had been the front-runner who staged a comeback — he staged his “comeback” win because voters believed he was electable.

Polls indicate that Obama can beat just about all of the Republicans in hypothetical general election matchups. More than half of America still dislikes Hillary.

Because I would never count out the Clinton machine, which local blogger Hugh Jackson likens to the Borg of “Star Trek” fame, there’s still a chance that she wins New Hampshire.

As for the Culinary union endorsement, I don’t know why they don’t go with Obama now.

Even Dennis Kucinich sent his voters to Obama.

Nevada Democrats will have a great say in the Democratic nomination, perhaps keeping someone alive until the big states weigh in Feb. 5, or perhaps providing a third straight win for Obama.

Eventually, maybe by Tuesday, CNN will figure out that Nevada really could be a state to watch, even if it’s not a quick drive from Atlanta.

Getting back to the parochial cheerleading for a minute, you’d think candidates only speak in Iowa. Both Brazile and Blitzer marveled over Obama’s brilliant evocation of Martin Luther King’s “fierce urgency of now” as something he first trotted out two or three weeks ago in Iowa. Clark County Democrats heard Obama use it at the Jefferson-Jackson dinner in November. Time magazine picked up on it at the end of that month.

But Nevada should get more opportunity to pester the “best political team in television” when CNN pitches camp at Cashman Center in another week.

Now the Obama campaign can pester me anew about having the “best organization.” Fired up, indeed.

Iowa picked candidates who offered hope. One offers hope over negativity. One offers hope for change. Both messages would seem to play well here.

We’ll just have to wait and see if they can hold up for the next 48 hours.

With both Dodd and Biden dropping out Thursday night, hundreds, if not thousands, of Nevada caucus goers are now looking for another candidate. It’s hard to imagine Clinton as a voter’s second choice, especially when the Obama campaign truly can exude a spirit of first.

What I saw in Iowa was that 70 percent of Democrats worried that Hillary won’t get to the White House. That’s the fear so many Nevada Democrats have talked about privately.

Now they get the chance to actually vote that way.

Contact Erin Neff at (702) 387-2906, or by e-mail at eneff@reviewjournal.com.

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