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'08 Race Could Hinge on "Minnewisowa"

By Barry Casselman

When I invented the term "Minnewisowa" during the 2004 presidential election, I had in mind the new political superstate of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa which had emerged in recent years as a significant factor in presidential politics.

My explanation for this combination of states was their kindred demographics and behavior. All three are historically midwestern agricultural states with large metropolitan centers (St. Paul/Minneapolis, Milwaukee and Des Moines) which have suburban areas populated with German and Scandinavian stock now enlarged with expanding Hispanic, Southeast Asian and black communities. This mix has produced close presidential elections here since 2000, and this trend is likely to continue at least through 2008.

Both major political parties were very interested not surprisingly in St.Paul as the site for their national conventions, but the Republicans acted first and the Democrats had to go to Denver. Iowa will continue to be the first electoral test in 2008 with its caucus (even if it has to schedule it in December), and its GOP straw poll this August will probably again be the first indication of where that contest is going. New Hampshire will continue to be the first primary state, but a concentration of primaries on February 5, 2008 will change the nomination process, perhaps profoundly (including, as I have suggested previously, causing one or more nomination contests to go the party conventions).

Something else these three "Minnewisowa" states share, the Mississippi River, now appears to be a continuing battleground going down river with Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas likely to become competitive, as well as Louisiana, still reeling from Hurricane Katrina.

The assumption is that the east and west coasts are now safely Democratic, and the mountain states and the south are safely Republican.

I'm not sure, considering how the international situation is developing and the new Democratic Congress is acting, that more than a few states are "sure things" as they have been in the recent past.

It goes both ways. If the war in Iraq continues to fester, or the economy falters, it could lead to a landslide for the Democratic nominee. If the Democrats continue to overplay their hand about Iraq, and it improves, or their domestic policy demands for dramatically higher taxes wrecks the economy, it could be an unexpectedly big GOP year.

Presidential politics is chess, not checkers. Every move has consequences later in the game. What appears a disadvantage in the short term could produce check mate twenty moves (or months) later.

A few weeks ago, everywhere I went the word was that the McCain campaign was over. Disgruntled conservatives seemed moving towards the unannounced Newt Gingrich. Giuliani had a solid lead all over the country. Mitt Romney's chances were dismissed because of his religion.

Then Fred Thompson's name popped up, Gingrich's numbers fell, Giuliani's margins went down, and McCain made a partial comeback. I suspect it will go back and forth until the Iowa straw poll, and probably beyond that. Fred Thompson may or may not get into the race. Newt Gingrich may or may not get into the race later. Romney's charisma may begin to take hold. McCain's formidable character may seem much more important than it does now. Presidential campaigns are not sculpted with stone. They are sculpted with malleable clay.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton's frontrunner status is wearing thin. She has an impressive campaign organization, lots of cash, but so far she has not been impressive on the campaign trail. She has unprecedentedly high negative numbers for a frontrunner, and they don't seem to go away. She would get most Democratic votes in 2008, but might lose the independents.

Mr. Obama seems to be catching up. John Edwards could win Iowa and make it a horse race all the way to the convention. Bill Richardson, with his great resume, could show surprising strength. On the other hand, Senator Obama may not have staying power, although current evidence is that he does. Mr. Edwards may not play well this second time around.

Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, could enter the race as an independent. He does not have to raise a dime. He has an excellent record as mayor. He is a natural centrist. Like Ross Perot did in 1992, he could change the election result.

The Mississippi River valley does not really have a favorite son in the 2008 race. Only Senator Obama (born in Hawaii) is a major candidate from a state which borders on it, yet Mr. Obama's appeal is as a national figure, not as a midwesterner. As things stand now, the race could be decided, however, in Minnewisowa and the Mississippi River valley.

But so much could change. The polls are telling us very little. There have been no voting tests. The public is not yet engaged. Most important of all, the realities of the international situation and the domestic economy in 2008 are unknown.

Blunders can and will be made. Everything has consequences, and sometimes the most important are not visible until later. This is chess, not checkers.

Barry Casselman writes about national politics for Preludium News Service.

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