The fact of the matter is that the lack of an undeniable favorite consensus candidate among Republicans and a higher than average number of undecided voters at this stage in the game will allow for wide swings in popularity for one candidate or another based upon regional idiosyncrasies and local influences in ways that are far more significant than in recent presidential nomination contests.
With the economy still proving to be the issue at the forefront of the election, Mitt Romney and his succesful background in such things as business and even his incredibly well engineered turnaround of the 2002 Winter Olympics, has allowed him to squeak by as one of the most promising figures when it comes to that critical issue. However; Romneycare and doubts about his committment to social conservatives issues have prevented Romney from capitalizing on his positive economic credentials as much as he could have. Meanwhile, social conservatives have failed to find a single figure that they can comfortably get 100% behind.
Given these circumstances, Iowa’s results will still leave the field with very inconclusive results that will not begin to get any clearer until South Carolina and Florida hold their primaries. Nevertheless, at this point in time, the stakes are higher for some than others in Iowa.
Do or Die:
For Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum, anything less than a third place showing will leave them struggling for relevance, a position that will only be compounded by the difficulty they face in New Hampshire where Mitt Romney’s victory is a foregone conclusion and which is the only state that longshot candidate Jon Huntsman finds himself to be much of a factor. This will make South Carolina Bachmann, Perry, and Santorum’s only hope of becoming viable candidates as the nomination contest moves ahead. So for these three candidate the race is on for third place. Anything better than that would be considered a surprising finish tha will give them a brief opportunity to take advantage of the spotlight.
Establishing Themselves as the Clear Alternative to Romney:
Newt Gingrich is the candidate who has the best chance of truly establishing himself as the alternative to Mitt Romney, in order to do this he can ill afford anything less than third a place finish. Short of that, Newt will have a hard time maintaining momentum as he heads in to South Carolina and Florida.
There is a low bar for Mitt Romney to meet in Iowa. He merely needs to avoid being embarrassed with a finish any lower than third place. But even if he did happen to finish towards the very bottom of the pack, chances are he will still win in New Hampshire and go in to South Carolina with a strong organization and the backing of the state’s popular Tea Party Republican Governor, Nikki Haley. But on the flip side, a first place showing by Romney will go a long way establishing the type of impression of inevitability that could stymie the momentum that other candidates may be establishing in their plight to become the candidate with the best chance of beating Romney.
Jon Huntsman is considered the top of the bottom tier candidates that consist of Gary Johnson and Buddy Roemer. However being slightly ahead of two candidates who nobody really knows is running for President or really cares if they are running for President, does not say much. And Iowa is a state that that Huntsman simply ignored in order to focus on New Hampshire. For this reason, Jon Huntsman is essentially of no consequence in the Iowa Caucus and just wont matter. The only way his name will even be mentioned is if he somehow manages to beat anyone else and not come in last place.
Achieving Undeniable Viability:
Ron Paul’s rise in statewide polls of Iowa has now put him in the unenviable position of needing to meet very high expectations. With such high expectations anything less than second place will generally be seen as a setback and will do little to help Ron Paul to begin turning around his numbers in other states, most of which place him in the middle of the field. But if Ron Paul does meet current expectations with either a first or second place finish, he will merely remain a significant barrier between Romney and the emergence of a viable alternative to Romney.
A first or second place finish for Paul in Iowa will make him an undeniably significant candidate who can not be ignored, even by me, a die-hard anti-Paul conservative, or as Pauliacs call me, a neo-con. However; as Newt Gingrich stated, it will be hard to imagine that Ron Paul will fly among mainstream Republicans and “decent Americans”. While his limited government views are applauded, his isolationist tendencies which he denies having, will ultimately disqualify him in the eyes of voters who understand that the first constitutional responsibility of an American President and our federal government, is our national security and foreign policy. Ron Paul’s unwillingness to come up with a proper defense and foreign policy, will ultimatelylead to the type of conclusion of Ron Paul that Newt Gingrich expressed in his Tuesday afternoon interview with Blitzer, when he stated;
“As a potential President, a person who thinks that the United States was responsible for 9/11, a person who believes,…who wrote in his news letter that the World Trade Center bombing in ’93 might have been a C.I.A. plot, a person who doesn’t believe that it matters if the Iranians have a nuclear weapon, I’d rather just say, you look at Ron Paul’s record of systemic avoidance of reality,”
Ultimately, I believe rational Republicans will come to the same conclusion that Newt believes they will.
Given the incredible anti-establishment sentiment within the electorate and a deep TEA movement-like desire to send a message to both Republicans and Democrats, and the lack of a singular candidate with very strong support behind them, even I can’t be sure that Ron Paul will fail in his attempt to draw the nomination down to a contest between himself andMitt Romney. If there is one thing I know in politics, it is that you never say never and given the volatility and indecision of the Republican electorate, Ron Paul might benefit from a social conservative vote that is deeply divided by far too many candidates, and an unusually high desire by voters to cast a protest vote for Ron Paul and make him the vessel through which they make their anger known. Realistically, such circumstances will merely help assure Mitt Romney of the nomination in the end but it will still make Ron Paul a far more significant figure in the 2012 election than many other than Paulites, assumed possible.
Key Factors in the Closing Days
In these final days of the Iowa Caucuses, several factors will have a significant effect on the results.
A very large undecided vote can be swayed in to the camp of one candidate or another by any number of things. Most powerful of all would be an embarrassing last minute disclosure that could cost the unlucky victim support they already have and the support of those who were leaning towards them. The other would be a successful pitch that inspires social conservatives to get behind one candidate and that candidate’s ability to coordinate the type of Get Out the Vote operation that delivers that social conservatives support to their caucus locations on Tuesday night.
Organization and momentum will be key and anyone who inspire and channel that momentum in these closing days, could pull off a surprise finish. The two candidates with the greatest potential in that area are the two Ricks. Both Perry and Santorum are best situated for such a result.
The final influence over the results in the Iowa Caucus will be something that no campaign can really effect……..the weather.
Bad weather favors Ron Paul.
His supporters are fanatics who will not allow anything to prevent them from voting for him. If there is 6 feet of snow falling and a windchill factor of 6 below, expect Ron Paul to land a big win.
Others who would benefit from bad weather, but to a lesser degree than Ron Paul, are Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum.
Their supporters tend to be more deeply committed than are those of Romney, Perry, and Gingrich and they too will show up in significant numbers despite any foul weather.
Good weather favors Romney and Gingrich.
Both these men have established relatively wide support that does not run very deep. This means with good weather, their large but not highly motivated number of supporters will actually show up to cast their caucus vote for them. Such would not be the case if bad weather made getting to their caucus location seem more trouble than that it was worth to them.
At the moment, it looks like the weather in Iowa on the day of the Caucus will be cold but clear.
Iowa will will have at best, a minimal effect on the race. Just as it did in 2008 when the eventaul Republican nominee, John McCain, came in fourth place behind Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson, and just as it did in 1988 when then Vice President George H. W. Bush found himself in third place behind Bob Dole and Christian Broacast Network founder, Rev. Pat Robertson. And it will probably matter as much in 2012 as it did in 1980 when George H. W. Bush defeated Ronald Reagan in that year’s caucus.
The start of the real race won’t occur until January 21st. It is then that South Carolina’s primary will set up the race between Mitt Romney and one other candidate as they race moves on to Florida which holds its primary on January 31st. And it is Florida which will produce the best indication of who the ultimate nominee is likely to be.
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