[Posted by Karl]
Contra Matthew Dowd, the answer is that political organization has mattered very much in the Iowa caucuses, even on the GOP side (where the rules are less arcane than those for Democrats). However, the answer may be different this year.
First, Dowd on the “myth of organization”:
What is needed in the Iowa Republican Caucus is energized voters and momentum going into that day. If you have those things, an organization is not a real necessity.
For example, by nearly every account, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty had the best organization around going into the Ames Straw vote, but he didn’t have momentum or energy. So he finished third, and dropped out of the race the next day.
And let’s take a look back at history. In 2000, George W. Bush had the best organization in Iowa, tons of endorsements, spent gobs of money and led Steve Forbes in the polls by more than 20 points. If organization matters that much, then the one holding that hand should exceed their poll numbers at the caucus and those without staff and resources should underperform their poll numbers. Bush ended up beating Forbes by only 11 points. And Alan Keyes, who had zero organization, more than doubled his polling numbers going into Caucus night.
In 2008, Romney had spent the most money in Iowa and had an extensive and experienced political organization. He led nearly every poll going into the Caucus. He ended up equalling his polling numbers but lost the Caucus to Mike Huckabee, who had energy and momentum behind his candidacy, by nearly 10 points.
In 1996, the same was true of Pat Buchanan, who had very limited organization and staff, but who ended up nearly beating Bob Dole in the caucus because of his momentum and the energy of his voters.
Note Dowd’s questionable yardstick: outperforming pre-caucus polling. He does not cite a single instance where a candidate with poor oganization won Iowa over a candidate with good organization. Moreover, many of his examples are misleading. In 2000, Forbes was well-organized. Alan Keyes did well that year, but not as well as Pat Robertson did in 1988 by organizing the same basic bloc of religious conservatives. Keyes 2000 came in third; Robertson 1988 came in second, beating a sitting Veep and losing only to the well-organized neighbor from Kansas, Bob Dole.
In 2008, Romney did not lead nearly every pre-caucus poll; Huckabee led the vast majority of them for a month before the vote. Huckabee won in no small part by harnessing the “miniature political machine” of he homeschooling movement in Iowa. The fact that homeschoolers don’t politically organize for money makes them no less an effective political organization (as many Iowans — and Michelle Bachmann — would tell Dowd).
However, this year, that movement is split. Moreover, this year GOP candidates have minimally organized their Iowa campaigns — if at all — fueling what is already one of the most unpredictable, nontraditional caucuses in recent history. The prospect of candidates trying to throw together their ground games in a month may make Dowd correct this year, if only by accident. Or it could turn into 1980, when Reagan failed to organize Iowa because he thought GHWBush would have the advantage; GHWBush’s ground game turned out to be not all that great, but enough to beat Reagan and perhaps alter history in the process. In the land of the unorganized, the one-legged footsoldier may rule.