Romney and Santorum may surprise all with a first and second place finish, respectively, but South Carolina will be the real winner of the Iowa Caucuses.
I am predicting that Mitt Romney will in Iowa and it will go a long way in establishing a sense of inevitability that will help him wrap up the nomination sooner than later. However; unless Romney racks up a win with 30 or more percent, the results will not matter a great deal and in the end, the real winner will be South Carolina.
Iowa’s caucus history shows that the winners of their nominating contests do not usually go on to become the nominee and President. More often than not, Iowa caucus voters seem more intent on sending a message to the establishment than sending a nominee to the White House. This time may be different in the sense that Iowa Republicans may believe that their support for most of the existing candidates will not send any strong message and that Ron Paul, the only candidate for whom a protest vote for would send a clear message, is not in any way a responsible and realistically, viable candidate. As it is, most Iowa Republicans do not support Ron Paul. His perceived success in the state so far is due mainly to the Independent and Democrats who are allowed to vote in the caucuses if they change their Party affiliation.
This is something which Paulbots have been planning on taking advantage for a very long time and they are doing a good job at it.
But not good enough.
In the end I believe that between all the back and forth of frontrunner status for one candidate or another, Mitt Romney who has been consistently at the top of the polls in Iowa and who has the strongest organization of all the candidates in the state, will benefit from a social conservative and evangelical vote that is sharply divided between at least four candidates, and from his perceived electability against Barack Obama. These factors will allow Romney to win the caucus, but unless he wins by an overwhelming amount, it will not do much to help him convince people that he will definitely be the nominee. That job will be left up to South Carolina, which will actually be the big winner coming out of Iowa.
Everyone knows that Romney will win New Hampshire, so there is little suspense there. That leaves South Carolina which follows the Live Free or Die State, as the most pivotal of all the early state contests and the greatest beneficiary of the results in Iowa.
It is where Newt Gingrich has been trying to build a firewall and hoping to establish himself as either the frontrunner or the only real viable alternative to Mitt Romney.
South Carolina is also a prelude to the Florida and the momentum provided to the candidate who wins in South Carolina will go a long way in helping that candidate’s chances of winning in the Sunshine State’s primary.
Even in the unlikely event that Romney blew out all his rivals with a win of 30% or more, South Carolina will still be an early contest that either solidifies Romney’s lock on the nomination or gives someone else the opportunity to be Romney’s true chief rival as the race moves forward.
These are just simple facts which will not be changed by any result that Iowa produces. If Senator Rick Santorum happened to pull off a Huckabee-like, 2008, come-from-behind victory, Romney will still dominate in the New Hampshire primary and South Carolina will still host the contest that play a somewhat more decisive role than either New Hampshire or Iowa.
When all is said and done, Iowa will serve one chief purpose. It will help weed out the field of candidates. It will help to begin sealing the deal for several of the lower tier candidates, especially Rick Perry. But even in that capacity, Iowa is not likely to end anyone’s candidacy. Once again, that mission will be accomplished in South Carolina.
That said, in the tradition of making predictions as one year ends and a new one begins, while I hold true to the belief that Iowa will really only matter if Romney comes in anywhere under third pace, or wins with a large plurality, I also believe that the candidates will finish as follows:
- Mitt Romney – 26%
- Rick Santorum -21%
- Ron Paul – 17%
- Newt Gingrich -16%
- Rick Perry – 11%
- Michele Bachmann – 7%
- Jon Huntsman – 2%
I am quite uncertain about those totals, but very confident in the order of each candidate’s placement.
These results will produce several storylines coming out of Iowa. One will be about whether of not Mitt Romney has a lock on the nomination as he is now on a path to becoming the first non-incumbent Republican presidential candidate to sweep both Iowa and New Hampshire? The other story will be is Rick Santorum, the new Mike Huckabee and can he translate his strong Iowa showing into a victory elsewhere?
The other stories that will provide the filler for 24 hour cable news programs, will be can Newt comeback “in South Carolina”? What happened to Ron Paul’s surge? And is this the end for Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann?
The answer to all these questions will be determined by the state which I argue will be the ultimate winner in the Iowa Caucuses…..South Carolina.
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