In the Arena

Iowa Likes Nice

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A day after his big speech about religion and God and all, Mitt Romney loves his neighboring candidates in a negative and inaccurate Iowa mailing.

And here’s evidence, via The Page, that Hillary Clinton’s attacks on Barack Obama haven’t been working, either.

This is one of the reasons why Iowa is such a difficult challenge for politicians: They have to fight with one hand–the gnarled, disgusting, negative hand–tied behind their back. There’s a pretty convincing history of Iowans turning against politicians who go negative against other politicians, especially when they do it in print and in TV ads. Even John Edwards’ anti-Hillary aggressiveness in debates–though substantive and well within the rules, in my opinion–seemed to be fueling a slight diminution of his popularity among caucus-goers. Now Edwards has wisely decided to focus on his populist pitch, with oblique references to his opponents’ deficits…and he remains, I think, a plausible choice to win on January 3.

I’ve done nine–count ’em–Iowa caucuses and I can’t remember an election where the outcome seemed so cloudy, on both sides, this close to the voting. (1988 was ballpark, but it seemed likely from the start that Bob Dole, from neighboring Kansas, would win on the Republican side. The big surprise that year was Pat Robertson finishing ahead of Vice President George H.W. Bush.) Yes, it’s pure political-junkie fun to watch the daily jostling of a close campaign–but I also think it gins up voter interest, which isn’t bad for democracy.