Today's Papers

Dean Wither

Everybody leads with the Iowa caucus, where Senator John Kerry won big, Sen. John Edwards came in a close second, and former Gov. Howard Dean limped into third. Rep. Richard Gephardt, who had been banking on a solid showing, finished a distant fourth and dropped out of the race late last night. Gephardt had already announced that he won’t seek re-election for his congressional seat, meaning his political career is done.

Here are the (all-but) final numbers: Kerry 38 percent, Edwards 32 percent, Dean 18 percent, Gephardt 11 percent, Rep. Dennis Kucinich one percent. Sen. Joe Lieberman and retired general Wesley Clark both skipped Iowa. (The numbers are based on delegate counts; actual votes aren’t recorded. Here’s  how the wacky and imprecise caucus system works.) Clark is polling well in New Hampshire, which will have the country’s first primary next Tuesday.

Pondering why Dean tanked, the LAT’s Ron Brownstein suggests Dean hurt himself by going negative and that peoples’ anger about the war has blown over. Slate’s Will Saletan has similar guesses and adds that the press walloped Dean, only partly undeservedly.Brownstein also notes that entrance surveys suggested that Kerry had broad-ranging support: He “displayed almost equal appeal to men and women, working class and more affluent voters, liberals and moderates.”

A New York Times news analysis warns not to read too much into the outcomes: Of the 13 most recent competitive “nominating processes,” 10 have had a different candidate win in New Hampshire than in Iowa. One candidate who lost Iowa: Ronald Reagan.

The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz, blogging, reminds that “just about everything you heard and read about the Iowa caucuses in November and December was wrong. The press would have done better if all the reporters had taken a long vacation.” (Logic question: Doesn’t that presume a kind of static reality that doesn’t actually exist during a campaign? That is, reporters might have been right, and voters might have changed their minds.) Anyway, Howie says don’t trust the pundits: “For the next 48 hours, it will be all about Kerry is surging! Edwards is surging! Dean is fading! But by later this week in New Hampshire, where Dean has a bigger lead, it could be a different story. Or not.”

A front-page piece in the NYT says U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan’s hinted that he’ll agree to the U.S.’s request to send elections experts to Iraq. Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s top cleric, has demanded direct elections but has said he’ll accept U.N.’s experts opinions even if they conclude, as the U.S. contends, that direct elections can’t be arranged by June, when sovereignty is supposed to be transferred. “With the U.S. and the Iraqis asking for the same thing, it makes it difficult for the U.N. to say no,” a U.N. official told the Wall Street Journal, which also plays up Annan’s comments. The LAT, which also fronts the U.S.’s request, doesn’t think it’s a done deal, saying “Annan took pains Monday to not even hint that he was likely to grant the U.S. and Iraqi request.”

The WP stuffs the U.N.’s angle and fronts the “tens of thousands” of Shiites (other papers estimate 100,000) who demonstrated in Baghdad calling for direct elections. The Post notes that the march was peaceful and organizers were careful not to get the crowd too pumped up.

The NYT fronts word that the White House plans to increase Medicare payments by 10.6 percent—about five times the usual annual increase. Unnamed officials said the move is meant to stop the flow of HMOs and health plans dropping out of the program. Democrats argued that Medicare already overpays HMOs that the increase is, as one congressman put it, “a first step in the march toward privatization.”

The Post reports inside that Republican congressional leaders and the White House have rejected the independent 9/11 commission’s request that it be given more time for its investigation. The commission is currently slated to finish by May, and the administration appears to have been worried that any delay could push disclosures into the home stretch of the presidential campaign.

According to wire stories inside the papers, Afghan government officials said a U.S. airstrike killed 11 civilians, including four children. A U.S. military spokesman said he believes the attack only hit militants who “were running away from a known bad-guy site.”

The Post’s David Ignatius says things are not going well in Iraq: “American-led occupiers haven’t yet found a way to put Iraq back together—politically, economically or socially.” And he warns that with ethnic competition rising, “even senior U.S. officials talk about the danger that Iraq may be slipping toward civil war.” Meanwhile, Fareed Zakaria, also writing in the Post, gets gloomy and wonders if things are still fixable. He concludes that the White House’s decision to go to the U.N. for legitimacy “may be too little too late”:

U.S. policymakers made two grave mistakes after the war. The first was to occupy the country with too few troops, creating a security vacuum. This image of weakness was reinforced when Washington caved to Sistani’s objections last June, junked its original transition plan and sped things up to coincide with the U.S. elections. The second mistake was to dismiss from the start the need for allies and international institutions. As it turns out, Washington now has the worst of both worlds. It has neither enough power nor enough legitimacy.