Iowa Sets the Pace for the Rest of the Country (Perhaps). I swear, for the next political piece I won’t lead in with a Ron Paul picture. Cross my heart. — Ed.
On Thursday, Iowans will gather in their living rooms and church basements for the biggest social event of the winter – the Iowa Caucuses. The caucuses (from the Algonquin word for “gathering of tribal chiefs”) are sort of insane, but they’ll make or break a handful of the candidates – 1,993 precincts at a time.
In the past, even candidates who struggled to break from the pack in Iowa had time to regain their footing before the long string of primaries that followed. That was before the states made a mad rush to schedule primaries earlier – 27 states will hold primaries on or before February 5. This gives second-tier candidates – like Democratic Senator Chris Dodd or Republican good old boy Fred Thompson – almost no breathing room to move their cash-strapped campaigns to other states, or to raise money for the next round of primaries.
All of which means that limping out of Iowa Friday morning (destination: New Hampshire) will depend on two things – cash-on-hand and beating the bookies’ odds in Iowa.
The starting point is knowing who the 16 candidates duking it out in Iowa actually are:
Three days before the first votes are cast, the race couldn’t be much tighter.
On the Democratic side of the equation, it may well be a surprise fight for first place between populist John Edwards and change agent Barack Obama. Polls have the two neck-and-neck with Hillary Clinton, who odds-makers believe might actually place third in Iowa. Clinton’s national aura of inevitability has lost a bit of its luster in Iowa; expectations are higher in New Hampshire.
Inevitability is a thing of the past for Republicans as well. A man from Hope (Arkansas) has leapt to the front of the pack in Iowa; voters have found Mike Huckabee’s social conservatism and friendly shtick to be at least as appealing as Mitt Romney’s polished executive look. But the once mighty Rudy has all but given up on Iowa – he and Fred Thompson are casting their hopes way out to South Carolina’s late January primary. And while John McCain trails with hopes for a fourth place finish in Iowa, there is a chance he’ll take New Hampshire for the Republicans next week.
And so while Iowa will prove interesting – and may cull some tier two candidates like Biden, Dodd and Richardson from the running – its New Hampshire where the first real cuts will take place.
My incredibly uneducated stab at Iowa results call for an Edwards/Obama/Clinton trifecta on the Democratic side, and a Romney/Huckabee/McCain finish for the Republicans. The outcomes will shift slightly in New Hampshire, I think. That primary will see a Obama/Clinton/Edwards finish – leaving all three strong for February’s 22-state throw-down, and a Romney/McCain/Huckabee finish on the Republican front.
Going into the January 29 primaries in South Carolina, Florida, Nevada and Wyoming, I think the Dems will be in a three-way race with no clear leader. And while Giuliani and Thompson will try to stay in the game into February, I think the contest will tighten among Romney, McCain and Huckabee.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about the Iowa/New Hampshire contests is how at odds they are with national polls – most of which have Clinton and Giuliani with commanding leads (as of early December).