Eff You, Iowa!

Even if Barack Obama loses Iowa, he could still win the nomination. Seriously.

The conventional wisdom is that if Clinton wins Iowa, Obama’s shot at the presidency is shot. While that’s certainly possible—and probably probable—pundits seem to be forgetting that momentum isn’t everything. 

There’s a very real chance Obama could win New Hampshire even if he loses Iowa by a reasonable amount (e.g., less than five percentage points). Obama is essentially tied with Clinton in New Hampshire in polling averages , and John Edwards is less of a factor in the competition for the change vote. More telling, perhaps, is that only  6 percent of New Hampshire Democrats say their own vote will be swayed by the Iowa outcome. (Of course, who would cop to that?) Plus, New Hampshire has picked a different winner than Iowa in the Democratic primary three of the past five contested cycles (although not in the past two).

So, what if New Hampshire asserts itself and plays contrarian to Iowa’s conventional wisdom? In a year when it was en vogue to hate on New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, it’s reasonable to think that residents will give the finger to the media, Iowa, and the rest of the country. Live-free-or-die pride is on the line. 

One question has percolated in the background all cycle: Are voters waiting for somebody else to tell them it’s OK to vote for the black guy with little experience but a big idea? An Obama win in the Granite State would start revealing the answer.

If Obama defeated Clinton in her former firewall state, all of the Clinton inevitability stories will be washed away by pro-Obama headlines. Clinton would probably win Nevada regardless (unless the culinary union backs Obama), which brings us to Jan. 26 in South Carolina. There, Obama’s campaign thinks the black population will come out to vote as long as one of the first two states confirms Obama as a viable candidate.

Now, it’s still more likely for Clinton to emerge the victor from most of the four meaningful early primaries. But if she and Obama split them, momentum won’t be as large a factor. Momentum, after all, is only useful for convincing voters that votes won’t be wasted. Anyone who wins two out of the first four states has proven viability, if not electability.