Steve Chapman

A week before the 1988 Iowa caucuses, Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush were thought to be, in the words of a Chicago Tribune story, "far in front of their four competitors." When the caucusing was over, Bush found himself not in first or second place but in third, well behind televangelist Pat Robertson.

Four years later, Bush got another surprise when Pat Buchanan beat him in New Hampshire. In 2004, Howard Dean was expected to cruise to victory in Iowa, while John Kerry was running a poor third in the polls. Come caucus night, it was the other way around.

Political history often seems to validate the biblical maxim: "But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first." In November 1991, notes the AEI Political Report, a survey of Democrats put Bill Clinton sixth in a field of six, chasing Mario Cuomo, Jerry Brown, Doug Wilder, Bob Kerrey and Tom Harkin.

In November 1975, Jimmy Carter had a microscopic three percent of the Democratic vote. "On only two occasions in the modern era," says the Report, "did the eventual Democratic nominee place first in the polls among fellow Democrats a year before the election."

Republicans are less unpredictable, but this year may be an exception. Among GOP voters who currently favor a particular candidate, two out of three say they may change their minds. It can't be reassuring to Hillary Clinton to learn that nearly half of Democrats feel the same way.

Which only goes to show that we are not at the "speak now or forever hold your peace" part, or the shopping for a dress part, or even the engagement part. We're still at the part, and we're going to be there a while. Like, until voters start voting.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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