When given a choice, voters want hope

As has been said of second marriages, Iowa caucusgoers opted for hope over experience.

A voter turnout of approximately the population of Jersey City bypassed the candidates of inevitability, big money, big names, known quantities and long experience to favor the two youngest and perhaps least experienced candidates in the race, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican Mike Huckabee, both frankly something of blank slates on the national scene.

Two of the most experienced candidates, in terms of political credentials, Sens. Joseph Biden and Chris Dodd, were sent home. Thus, before the other 49 states had a say, Iowa served its self-bestowed function of culling the field. ABC News helped by eliminating three others from the New Hampshire debate.

Caucusgoers said they wanted “change” and the candidates promised them “change” without exactly being precise about what they would change and how. The outcome and the general silence about George W. Bush could be read as a repudiation of his presidency and there is, in fact, no clear heir to his policies in the race. This cannot make Republicans feel comfortable about next fall.

The caucuses are a thoroughly artificial event, not even representative of the people of Iowa. The for-real delegates to the national nominating convention, the presumed purpose of this event, will not actually be chosen until June.

By then the nominees will have long been known. Thanks to frontloading driven by Iowa and New Hampshire, their identities will be settled on Feb. 5 in the political big bang known as Super Tuesday, when more than 20 states hold primaries.

But it will be Iowa and New Hampshire on Tuesday that largely define those voters’ choices. The presidential-selection process has moved from one small, unrepresentative state to another small, unrepresentative state.

There has to be a better way.