The 2004 Democratic nomination was decided in Iowa. John Kerry's decision to focus his efforts in the Hawkeye State, with the support of a $6.4 million loan secured by his home, paid off handsomely: Kerry rallied in the final two weeks to upset Howard Dean, and surged to an easy win in New Hampshire just eight days later. The rest of the states then fell like dominoes.
"Inside the Dean Campaign" (April 8, 2004)
Howard Dean's political pollster talks about the campaign's extraordinary rise and crashing fall.
Dean and his chief strategists—Joe Trippi, the campaign manager; the media consultants Steve McMahon and Mark Squier; and I—were not surprised: winning Iowa had been the heart of our own victory plan. As was the case with so many other parts of our campaign, somebody stole our hopes along the way. This is the story of how it happened.
Polling in Iowa is both important and impossible. The vagaries of the caucus process make it very difficult to predict who might actually turn out on caucus night and to target those voters in a poll sample. The problems are compounded because Iowa voters have become "professional," and they know it is to their advantage to delay making up their minds.
Our first stab-in-the-dark-attempt was in late April of 2003, nine months before the caucuses. It confirmed some of Howard Dean's most fervent hopes about the state: he was actually in the lead among Iowans who had attended a caucus in the past and said they would definitely go this time. But it exposed a serious weakness: he was virtually unknown to many Iowans, particularly those inclined to support the 1988 Iowa winner, Richard Gephardt, of Missouri. The data also hinted that John Kerry could become a formidable candidate and that John Edwards was a direct threat to Dean. The overall results were these: Gephardt, 34 percent; Kerry, 16 percent; Joseph Lieberman, 15 percent; Dean, 10 percent; Edwards, six percent; others, four percent; undecided, 15 percent.