2016: Do Looks Matter?

Is 2016 about ideas, issues and integrity — or is it little more than a beauty contest?

Over the course of the next year, you’re going to hear plenty of theories as to what guarantees victory in a president election.

For example, there’s the matter of candidates’ height — the premise being that the taller contender always wins. A few years ago, researchers at Texas Tech took a look at this and decided there was something to it — something having to do with voters and their primordial instincts.

The problem is, “caveman politics” hasn’t held up in the Information Age. In 2012, Mitt Romney was a shade taller than Barack Obama. In 2000, Al Gore stood higher (and sighed louder) than George W. Bush. Bush also was lesser in physical stature in 2004 (4-1/2 inches lower than John Kerry), but again he debunked the theory.

What then should we be looking at?

I’d go with youth. Dating back to Bill Clinton in 1992, the younger of the two candidates has earned more popular votes (yes, the applies to Gore in 2000). Which doesn’t bode well for Hillary Clinton, presuming she’s a 69-year-old Democratic nominee a year from this November.

Or, if you prefer, another variable: looks.

I refer you to this Huffington Post column that rationalizes why 2016’s winner will be . . .  Marco Rubio. Why? for a lot of reasons you might guess: the Florida senator is young, ethnic, a genuine conservative and knows his foreign policy.

Plus this — the idea that the national vote truly is a beauty contest:

“The effects of physical looks on presidential elections are well documented. The most famous example was 1960, when John F. Kennedy was perceived by television viewers to have beaten Nixon in their presidential debate and radio listeners said Nixon won. Data confirms the importance of looks. Researchers at Princeton University found that the candidate voted as more competent-looking went on to win in 69% of the gubernatorial races and 72% of the Senate races. A University of California study quantified the effect of attractiveness at a 13% vote swing. 

Marco Rubio is a young, handsome, attractive candidate who physically exudes a leader presence. For all the importance of money and policy on the outcome of elections, data seems to indicate that looks count for a whole lot. This will carry Rubio through the primary and help him beat Hilary Clinton in the general election.”

I’ll leave it to you to figure why this didn’t work for Mitt Romney . . .

Meanwhile, some numbers:

The 2016 presidential election marks the 9th such “change” contest over the past century — an open seat up for grabs.

I won’t bother trying to pick the winner of a beauty contest between, say, Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey.

But to recap how age and height worked out with regard to the victor:

2008: Obama younger and taller

2000: George W. Bush older and shorter

1988: George H.W. Bush older and taller

1968: Nixon younger and taller

1960: John F. Kennedy younger and taller

1952: Dwight Eisenhower older and taller

1928: Herbert Hoover older and taller

1920: Warren Harding older and taller

Height prevails seven out of eight times. Youth won out three times.

The bottom line: whatever factor you want to cook up — looks, age, height, weight, education pedigree, astrological sign, numbers of vowels and consonants in a last name — there’s only one candidate you want to be in a presidential contest. That would George Washington. He stood 6’2″, essentially ran unopposed and twice swept the Electoral College.

Good luck messing with the formula.

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Sweet Loretta?

Rep. Loretta Sanchez courts voters and racial controversy in California’s U.S. Senate race.

You can’t blame Californians for being somewhat jaded, if not downright disinterested in statewide elections. Just look at the numbers.

Jerry Brown won last year’s gubernatorial contest by 20 points without working up a sweat (or bothering to run ads). He also won by a shade under 13%, back in 2010.

As for presidential contests, America’s nation-state hasn’t gone with a Republican since George H.W. Bush back in 1988. The average spread in the last five presidential years is 17 points, ranging from a 24-point Obama win in 2008 to a 10-point George W. Bush loss in 2004.

Then there’s the U.S. Senate, which along with the presidency will be in play in California in 2016 with Barbara Boxer stepping down after four terms. Will a Republican take her seat? Don’t be on it: the average GOP Senate loss in years coinciding with a presidential election — this is going back to 1992, when Boxer and Dianne Feinstein were first elected — is the same 17 points. Take out Boxer’s 5% win in 1992 and it’s over 20%.

But that doesn’t mean the Senate race won’t be fun to watch, especially when the two Democrats in the race cross paths. And that would be State Attorney General Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez.

One way to look at Harris is as a Golden State version of Barack Obama — three years younger than the President, also of mixed race (her father’s black, her mother Indian American), and likewise running with a record of exaggerated accomplish in her time as an AG and prosecutor.

This weekend, at a Democratic Party gathering in Southern California, Harris began to add some substance to a campaign that so far’s been vague and conceptual. However, she didn’t offer anything earth-shattering: addressing a crowd that also heard from Elizabeth Warren, Harris echoed the Massachusetts senator in badmouthing inequality while championing marijuana legalization and citizenship for illegal immigrants.

And she took a swipe at her rival Sanchez, who’s been in the House since the 1990’s, saying: “I believe we can disrupt the dysfunction in D.C.”

Here’s where the Democratic portion of the field may get muddy. While Harris is going after Sanchez’s resume, Sanchez seems interested in playing the race card. Last month, in an event at a Sacramento Mexican restaurant, she made it a point to point out that Harris doesn’t speak Spanish. This past week, Rep. Xavier Becerra, who’s also considering jumping into the Senate contest, challenged the media to probe Harris positions.

A Democrat conquering by dividing by race isn’t a new development in California. In 2010, and facing a difficult re-elect against Republican Van Tran, Sanchez got into hot water for remarking that “the Vietnamese and Republicans” were trying to steal her congressional seat.

Nor is it the first time that two or more Democratic candidates have collided along racial lines. It’s been an issue in past contests in the Los Angeles and San Jose areas and a conflict between establishment white politicians and ascendant minority candidates — and a point of contention back in the days of California gerrymandering.

But this kind of Democrat-on-Democrat fight is a new wrinkle as far as a high-profile statewide race goes. And in California, where one party is dominant, it might be a recurring theme as the likes of Boxer and Brown and Feinstein give way to a new generation of Democrats who aren’t monochromatic.

One last note about that Democratic Party convention. To the extent there was controversy, it wasn’t the noisy protestations over the President’s trade policy. Instead, it was what happened when Sanchez met with Indian-American Democrats.

The congresswoman told a story about the time she confused a Native American with a East Indian. “I am going to his office, thinking that I am going to meet with a,” she said, reportedly holding her hand in front of her mouth and making an echo sound. “Right? . . . because he said Indian American.

“And I go in there and it was great. It was just great because he said ‘I want to get my community involved.’ Involved. And that was the first time that we saw the Indian American community really come . . .”

Here’s the video:

Earlier the same day, Sanchez told reporters that he had been under pressure from Democrats who didn’t want her to run. As she told reporters: “As I told everybody, I was not going to be pushed in, not was going to be pushed out.”

She may be getting another round of calls: if not to get out, at the very least to pipe down.

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Bolton’s Swan Song

A GOP presidential field minus one: former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton isn’t running.

In something of a surprise (given that few Republicans have taken a pass), former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton has declared that he won’t run for president, begging the question of which Michael Bolton song best describes a courtship that won’t be:

1) A Time For Letting Go

2) I’m Not Ready

3) Nowhere To Run

4) You Don’t Want Me Bad Enough

At least the late Tom Dewey can rest in peace — he’s the last GOP presidential nominee to have sported a mustache, as does Bolton. Dewey’s last run was in 1948; there hasn’t been a presidential nominee with facial hair since then.

Bolton’s announcement continues what amounted to “foreign policy week” for the Republican hopefuls. That includes Marco Rubio outlining a approach that at least one conservative writer likened to the Truman Doctrine, Jeb Bush continuing to clarify his 20/20 hindsight answer on the Iraq invasion, plus Chris Christie, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul all piling on Bush.

If that sounds like a lot of bodies in motion . . . well, it is. About enough to fill a 40-man baseball roster.

Earlier this week, the Republican National Committee launched a straw poll on its website asking this simple question: “who would you like to see as the Republican nominee in the 2016 presidential election?”

The choices (brace yourself, it’ll take a while to get through this):

1) Kelly Ayotte

2) Haley Barbour

3) John Bolton

4) Jeb Bush

5) Herman Cain

6) Ben Carson

7) Chris Christie

8) Ted Cruz

9) Mitch Daniels

10) Mark Everson

11) Carly Fiorina

12) Newt Gingrich

13) Lindsey Graham

14) Nikki Haley

15) Mike Huckabee

16) Bobby Jindal

17) John Kasich

18) Peter King

congratulations, you’re halfway there . . .

19) Susana Martinez

20) Sarah Palin

21) George Pataki

22) Rand Paul

23) Ron Paul

24) Tim Pawlenty

25) Mike Pence

26) Rick Perry

27) Condoleezza Rice

28) Mitt Romney

29) Marco Rubio

30) Brian Sandoval

31) Rick Santorum

32) Tim Scott

33) John Thune

34) Donald Trump

35) Scott Walker

36) Alan West

Two things to note about this list: a) it’s a compilation not meant to offend, which explains a lot of folks who aren’t interested in running; b) what, no Paul Ryan (or. for that matter, Greg Abbott)?

Meanwhile, there’s the question of how the GOP is going to pull off the televised spectacle of a dozen-or-so candidates crowding one debate stage for the first gathering in August, in Cleveland. Does the party exclude all candidates polling at 1% or less? Or, as some back-in-the-pack candidates would prefer, splitting the field in half and holding not one but two debates over consecutive nights?

That, and the question of format, which The New York Times examines here:

“It is not entirely clear who will be in charge of devising or enforcing the debate criteria — that is, if there are criteria. One member of the national committee panel charged with overseeing the debates said its members had discussed ceding the decision entirely to Fox News.

At issue is how to stage a substantive discussion that is fair to viewers and the campaigns. The party has little appetite for a forum so thick with candidates that it allows for not much more than an extended “lightning round” of questions. One Republican involved in the process said a 90-minute forum with 10 candidates would offer each candidate only four to five minutes, after subtracting commercials and moderator time.”

Sounds like there’s a good debate awaiting Republicans . . . in advance of that first Republican debate.

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Trump And No Trump Bidding

“The Donald” in Greenville, for South Carolina’s Freedom Forum. A serial presidential flirter, will he commit this time?

There was plenty to take away from this weekend’s Freedom Summit in Greenville, S.C., which featured nearly a dozen Republican presidential candidates (here’s a tick-tock of the day’s proceedings from a local publication).

Such as:

1) Hawks. Maybe it has something to do with South Carolina (in Charleston Harbor alone, both the first shot in America’s Civil War and a launching spot, at nearby Patriots Point, for presidential ambitions). Republican after Republican took the stage — and the opportunity to demonstrate some good old-fashioned rhetorical saber-ratting. That would include former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (“Terrorist armies must be defeated by strength, not words”), Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (“Have you seen the movie ‘Taken,’ with Liam Neeson? . . . We will look for you. We will find you. And you will kill you”). Noticeably missing: native son Lindsey Graham, maybe the most hawkish of the GOP contenders, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who’d like to declare war on ISIS but otherwise has a complicated foreign-policy message.

2) Jeb Jabs. Jeb Bush wasn’t in Greenville (he was up not in Virginia, giving a commencement speech at Liberty University), but he didn’t go unmentioned. After describing a humble existence as the son of a pastor and part-time secretary, there was this zinger from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: “From our family, we didn’t inherit fame or fortune, what we inherited was the belief that if you work hard and you play by the rules you can do and be anything you want.” Remember this line when the field gathers in mid-August for its first en masse debate. Will Walker take direct jabs at Jeb? If you were advising, which would you recommend as the smarter strategy: for Walker to build up his argument as a blue-collar champion, or try to portray Bush as an over-privileged blue-blood? Or both?

Then again, Walker and all other hopefuls might get upstaged on that debate stage if the field continues to include Donald Trump, who also happened to be in Greenville this weekend (just as he appeared at the Iowa and Hampshire versions of the Freedom Summit).

Two things about Trump:

1) Should We Really Be Paying Any Attention? As you’ll see in this chronology of “The Donald’s” “big political surprises”, this isn’t his first political rodeo. There was talk of a third-party presidential run in 2000, a stab at governor of New York in 2006, hints of another White House run leading up to 2008, again in the 2012 cycle and now pre-2016. Is Trump serious this time around? He’s set up an exploratory committee and has hired political operatives . Here’s a more cynical view: while NBC wants to continue with a 15th season of Celebrity Apprentice, Trump has said he won’t do the show so that he can focus on his presidential aspirations. Is he really running, or holding out for more money from The Peacock?

2) Should Someone Put Him In His Place? At the Freedom Summit, Trump was territorial (he accused Scott Walker of poaching his “Make American Great Again” theme), bombastic (“I don’t give a s— about lobbyists”), cocky (“I would be the greatest job president ever, in my opinion, but I think I would be even better at security”) and jingoistic/delusional (“The greatest builder is me, and I’m going to build the greatest wall that you have ever seen . . . And you know who’s going to pay for the wall? Mexico”). Not that Trump has a snowball’s chance of winning a primary, but the outlandish soundbites are catnip for reporters. As such, it contributes to a distraction/image problem for the GOP. Should a presidential contender go after Trump? Then again, isn’t attention what he wants most?

Here’s Trump’s Greenville speech, judge for yourself if it’s worth the GOP’s worrying:

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2015 Governor’s Races And The Republican “Red Wall”

Gov. Phil Bryant: his boots were made for walking — and winning elections in Mississippi, which votes this year.

Before we get to 2016, there’s some housekeeping to attend to. Specifically, three gubernatorial contests on tap for later this year.

The states in play: Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Will they offer any windows into the health of the two parties? Let’s take a quick look at each one.

1) Kentucky. In the state synonymous with horse-racing, it has the inside track on the  nastiest race so far. A college girlfriend says one-time GOP frontrunner and state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer abused her. That, in turn, raised questions as to fellow Republican Hal Heiner’s campaign tactics. How ugly has the GOP fight become? At one point, Comer called Heiner “the Christian Laettner of Kentucky politics”. Why that hurts so badly in Wildcat Nation:

Ok, back to politics. Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, a Democrat, is ineligible to run due to term limits. So the contest becomes a litmus test of his party’s ability to win in the South. Bill Clinton twice carried the Bluegrass State by a sliver (each time under 4%); Barack Obama twice lost it by 16% or more. Speaking of Obama, it’s how Obamacare factors into the 2015 vote that’s worth watching. Beshear’s a staunch defender of the law. Attorney General Jack Conway, who’s looking to succeed Beshear, has to walk the fine line of siding with a Democratic president who’s wildly unpopular but a signature law that isn’t — a trick that Alison Lundergan Grimes couldn’t master last fall.

2) Louisiana. This one isn’t as complicated, though there is the oddity known as the jungle primary. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco served as the state’s governor from 2004-2008. Her successor, the term-limited Bobby Jindal (expected to join the ever-expanding GOP presidential field), twice was elected without the need for a runoff (under Louisiana law, the election’s over if the primary’s top vote-getter clears 50%). In the state that once gave America a governor who uttered the immortal words “the only way I can lose this election is if I’m caught in bed with either a dead girl or a live boy”,  keep an eye on Sen. David Vitter. He’s the GOP frontrunner despite a past connection to a D.C. sex scandal. Here’s Vitter on the issues — in some instances, not always with Jindal. Vitter has money and establishment connections  — and maybe the year’s best endorsement: the state’s treasurer likening Vitter to “a cross between Socrates and Dirty Harry”.

3) Mississippi. Immediately to the east of Louisiana, with a Republican governor seeking re-election. A late-April Mason-Dixon poll gives Phil Bryant a 61%-30% lead over Democrat Vicki Slater. He also has a 72% approval rating — not too shabby considering the poll was 52% Democrats and independents (maybe it’s the governor’s shiny  black boots bearing the state’s seal that make for the crossover appeal). Bryant recently took a big swing at Common Core (seen by some as his way of making up with Tea Party activists for supporting the more establishment Sen. Thad Cochran in last year’s election).

And if all three races go Republican? That would push the total of GOP governors to 32 in what has become a “red wall” across America.

Second, it has an effect on the parties’ presidential fortunes. A look at the current GOP field shows at least eight past or president Republican governors looking at the White House (some more seriously than others) — Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, Jindal, George Pataki, Rick Perry and Scott Walker.

On the Democratic side: just former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley. So much for a state bench.

Should Hillary Clinton lose in 2016, the Democratic governor most likely to step forward as did her husband in 1992? Here’s a montage of the 18 current Democrat governors (Alaska Gov. Bill Walker’s an independent, in case you’re wondering why the math doesn’t add up).

See if you can find a national winner in the bunch.

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Three More Presidential Candidates — Plus Another 300 Or So

All Hail President Emperor Caesar – and the other 300-plus White House hopefuls.

It’ll be a busy week in presidential politics, what with three Republican hopefuls making their candidacies official in the next few days.

That would include:

1) Dr. Ben Carson. After traveling the nation the past six months, looking to all the world like a presidential candidate, the retired neurosurgeon will make his announcement Monday at the Detroit Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts (then it’s off to Iowa). Why Detroit? It’s Carson’s boyhood home and plays a big part in his story of personal growth (poor inner-city child becomes world-class neurosurgeon). As he recently told a Detroit News interviewer: “My mother was so disappointed that I was a poor student, that she didn’t know what to do. She prayed to God for wisdom. And he gave it to her: to turn off the TV and make us read books.” Of note: as the only African-American in the GOP field and at a time when the Republicans are in dire need of expanding their base, can a black icon like Carson develop a multiracial political following?

2) Carly Fiorina. That same day, Carly Fiorina likewise is expected to formalize her candidacy (the former Hewlett-Packard chair is scheduled to appear on ABC’s Good Morning America to talk about her campaign and her new book). Californians who remember her failed U.S. Senate run scoff at her presidential bid. What they overlook: her life’s journey is the stuff of real flesh and blood (cancer survivor, started out as a “Kelly girl”) and plays well to less jaded electorates. Like Carson, Fiorina’s also a standout: she’s the lone woman in the field. Perhaps that’s why she has the most combative words to say about that other woman who’s seeking the presidency. Here’s what Fiorina declared at this weekend’s National Review Institute Ideas Summit: “We can’t let [Hillary Clinton] run on the stuff that she wants to run on — and we all know what she wants to run on. If I were the nominee, I will not falter . . . and I will land every punch and on the ground where she has to explain her transparency, her policies, her track record —​ ladies and gentlemen, on that ground we can win this fight.”

3) Mike Huckabee. The former Arkansas governor and Fox News host will jump into the race on Tuesday, His venue choice: Hope Arkansas — yep, the same Hope that gave us Bill Clinton. Which also makes for an easy kickoff speech: denouncing the Clintons’ Arkansas tenure. Two things to mote about Huckabee: (a) he’s folksy and likable, which could again pay dividends in Iowa: (b) as this video shows, he has a unique way of communicating — with passages such as this: “”Every day of my life in politics was a fight and sometimes it was an intense one. But any drunken redneck can walk into a bar and start a fight. A leader only starts a fight that he’s prepared to finish.”

Here’s that video:

btw, once these three candidates make it official, you’ll hear a lot of media talk about six Republicans in the field (Carson, Fiorina and Huckabee + Cruz, Paul and Rubio). Actually, it’s more like nearly six-dozen Republicans, give or take a view.

One of the blessings (or curses) of this country is it doesn’t take much to run for the presidency. All a man or woman of proper age has to do is fill out a one-page document called the FEC Form 2 — that, and an FEC Form 1 if you plan to accept more than $5,000 in campaign contributions.

As you’ll see here, lots and lots of Americans have taken advantage of the easy form-filing — so far, over 300 men and women are on the FEC’s list of “Form 2 candidates”.

And what a field it is: there’s a Dean (Daniel, not Howard), two Edwards (Katee and Jenny, but no John), a Johnson (Barry Lester, not Lyndon), a Moynihan (Shawn Stephen, not Daniel Patrick), a Scarborough (Larry, not Joe), and a Ventura (Andre, not Jesse).

You’ll also find a Bush (Willita Bush, a Green Party hopeful) and a Carter (Willie Felix).

There’s a Republican named Paul Debow, who would seem the perfect running mate for a certain pro football quarterback with the same-sounding last name.

For those of you looking for tough-on-crime types, we have James ‘Titus the Great” Law and Brenda Dawn Justice.

If you prefer a candidate who appreciates how good he has it, we have a George Bailey.

And there’s my favorite: President Emperor Caesar. a Democrat from Cape Coral, Fla., and a veteran of the 2008 and 2012 elections.

We can only assume that he’d have a better working relationship with the Senate than did Julius . . .

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The Bernie Zone

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders makes it official: he’s in for 2016.

Pop Quiz:

Who of the following has the best chance of becoming the next Democratic presidential nominee:

1) Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

2) Colonel Harland Sanders.

3) The actor who played the dead guy in Weekend At Bernie’s.

The answer, of course: none of the above (and in case you’re curious about the late Colonel Sanders, he left us for the big chicken bucket in the sky almost 35 years ago).

Although Sanders, the senator, officially threw his hat in the ring during a press conference Thursday on a grassy spot outside the U.S. Capitol (that’s more interaction with the press than the party’s frontrunner), his run isn’t seen as a serious threat to Hillary Clinton’s chances. In fact, NPR’s Mara Liaison lists three reasons why Sanders’ presence could benefit Mrs. Clinton (he’s a convenient sparring partner, not a real threat, and his last name isn’t Warren).

So what to look for from Sanders? For openers, lots of bashing the wealthy (what would you expect from a candidate whose website has these declaimers: “a political revolution is coming” and “paid for by Bernie 2016, not the billionaires”).

The second thing to notice: the oddity of it all.

Sanders is 73, which would make him the nation’s oldest elected president if he were to win the 2016 election. As a self-proclaimed “Democratic socialist”, he’s also the longest serving independent in congressional history (there’s no rule barring non-registered Democrats from the party’s presidential primaries, though there’s a question as to whether he’ll be allowed on the New Hampshire ballot).

And there’s the message: without Elizabeth Warren in the race, Sanders is the closest thing the Democrats have right now to the class-warfaring people’s champion that Hillary Clinton would have voters believe she is in this, her latest political incarnation.

Now, if only Sanders can get the press to take him seriously. Take, for example, this passage from Washington Post profile last summer: “Although reporters have always been enamored of his hair — which starts to resemble Charlton Heston parting a sea when Sanders begins passionately speaking about income inequality or Social Security — and his gruff unwillingness to tell anecdotes lest you write about his personality rather than his policies, his political ambitions are rarely taken seriously. ”

What does merit serious consideration is whether the Democratic field will end up resembling something akin to the 1984 contest featuring a heavy favorite in former Vice President Walter Mondale and a lot of lesser contenders (John Glenn, Fritz Hollings, Alan Cranston, etc.).

Thanks to labor’s backing and a lot of financial help from the Democratic establishment, Mondale didn’t break much of a sweat in the nation’s first caucuses. His near-49% of the vote was triple that of runner-up Gary Hart. However, given that Hart was a distant fifth just a month before the vote, the media made the Colorado senator the night’s story.

What stood out about Hart in 1984? In Iowa, he was a fresh face for activists not exactly in love with the frontrunner — a Democrat talking about reform and innovation, in perfect contrast to Mondale’s tried-and-tested approach.

Hart would go on to beat Mondale a month later in New Hampshire (yes, the first two contests were that far apart). What came next could best be described as a intra-party food fight — or, as Republicans like to call it, “the circular firing squad”. Hart tagged Mondale as a tired New Dealer. Mondale, in turn, slammed Hart’s “new generation” persona as little more an empty vessel.

Eventually, i came to an end, for Hart — on a debate stage and in these two minutes:

The question here: can Sanders, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, former Virginia Gov. Jim Webb or some other Democrat-to-be-named-later complicate Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy with a better-than-expected showing in Iowa?

Not a performance strong enough to deny her the nomination, but at least force her to carry her opponent(s) for a few extra rounds?

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