Iowa Isn’t Quite What You Think: Remember Jesse Jackson in ’88


There are a lot of reasons not to compare Barack Obama and Jesse Jackson, but Obama’s romp in Iowa tonight does bring to mind 1988, when Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow Coalition captured 11 percent in the Hawkeye State—coming in behind Dick Gephardt, Paul Simon (both veteran pols from neighboring states), and Michael Dukakis, but still astounding in a state where conventional wisdom had pegged Jackson as a quasi-fringe candidate (and where, as commentators never tired of pointing out, the black population was less than 1 percent). Back then, as I recall, some of the things that worked in Jackson’s favor were cadres of passionate field organizers; some really smart strategizing that the campaign never got credit for; a deep, deep anger over the way ordinary people had been hung out to dry in the farm crisis; and, well, that thing that just might make Iowa a useful participant in the primary sweepstakes after all (okay, go ahead and flame), which is that people there seem to insist on making their own choices, conventional wisdom be damned.

Update: Yes, I’m confused too: some sources I’ve seen say Jesse got 11 percent, some say 9, and he’s entirely missing from the Wikipedia entry; what’s up with that?

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