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Dec 28 2011

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Assessing Iowa

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Iowa the Decider....

A week from now, we will know.

Will Mitt Romney finally take the prize that proved his undoing in 2008, and be safely on the way to the GOP nomination?

Or will a fractured Republican electorate in Iowa stir the pot one more time, serving up surprise winners and scrambling expectations for New Hampshire and beyond?

Right now, no one knows.

And the variables of the race make this the most fluid presidential contest in modern memory.

Consider the polling.

The Real Clear Politics.com (RCP) blended average for Iowa currently has Ron Paul leading Mitt Romney by only 2 points; Romney leading Newt Gingrich by 6 for second place; Gingrich leading a rising Rick Perry by 2 points for third; and Perry looking over his shoulder at Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum, who the Texas governor leads by a narrow 3 and 4 points, respectively.

Indeed, only 15 points seperate the front runner from the back of the field, and in most polls, the sample size is small and the margin of error is between 4-5%. In addition, up to 50% of Iowans say they could change their minds before caucus day.

Simply put, it’s anybody’s game. Indeed, the race is defined by volatility

Nate Silver, from the New York Times’ “Five Thirty Eight” blog, employs a methodology that attempts to predict indvidual candidate vote share for Iowa.

According to Silver, Ron Paul has a 60% chance of winning Iowa with a little more than 25% of the vote. Romney, who is currently second with 21.5% of the vote, has a 31% chance of winning Iowa.  The rest of the pack, trail off from there in single digits.

But Silver also predicts a possible range of support, which is most striking.

According to Silver, Ron Paul could get as little as 12% of the vote to as much as 39%.  Romney between 9-34% and Gingrich 3-26%. As for the rest, Bachmann’s range is between 3-22%, Santorum with 2-22% and Perry at 2-21%.

How to make sense of this?

As originally reported in my December 15th post, Iowa is shaping up as three distinct primaries: who is most electable, who is the most socially conservative and the supporters of Ron Paul.

Romney and Gingrich are battling in the electability primary, where Romney has surged recently based on a strategy of negative ads targeting Gingrich, and a suddenly more visible and impressive ground operation.

Gingrich, battered by the ads, dropping in the polls, short on cash and any semblence of organization, is fighting back as best he can, with the help of ads funded by a hurriedly-created 527 PAC.

Perry, Bachmann and Santorum are battling for the hearts of social conservatives, which represent the largest constituency of caucus-goers.  60% of Republican Caucus participants in 2008 identified themselves as evangelical or born again Christians.

If any one of these three hope to continue their campaigns after January 3rd, they will need to land in the Top 3 in Iowa, and to do that, they will need to galvinize support among social conservatives, which still appears fractured days before the vote, but with rumblings of momentum from Santorum and, less so, from Perry.

And then  there’s Ron Paul.

On his third run for President, Paul already had an established network in Iowa; an organization that he has been growing incrementally since. He is also a recognized fundraiser, with $3 million still in the bank as of September 30th, according to the last FEC reports.

Moreover, the “Paulistas” are the kind of supporters that candidates can only dream of in caucus states – loyal, dedicated and motivated to participate. Of all the candidates running, Paul has the most intense following.

And that matters.

Iowa Republican officials expect between 80-150,000 Iowans to participate in this year’s Caucus. That is out of a total of 645,000 registered Republicans in the state that has 3 million voters.  Thus, in Iowa, less than 25% of state Republicans get involved in the presidential selection, which allows a small group of dedicated and highly organized supporters – such as those of Ron Paul – to have an outsized impact.

Though the winner of Iowa remains in unknowable right now, the post-Iowa political landscape is easier to see.

Suddenly, and ironically, Iowa will make or break Mitt Romney, after a year where Romney mostly ignored the state. But in mid-December, Romney changed course and decided to go all-in on Iowa. From Romney’s perspective the late decision is rooted in a simple analysis of the field.  Though Romney cannot get above 25% of the vote in most polls, in a field without an obvious social conservative leader, 25% might be just enough to win.

And if Mitt Romney can win in Iowa, he will have gone a long way toward locking up the nomination.

A first place finish in Iowa will be the tagnible means to solidify and expand his lead in New Hampshire, where a win will provide the momentum necessary to compete effectively in South Carolina and then Florida.

If Romney runs the table, it is hard to see how he doesn’t have the nomination in his pocket by February. And it all starts in Iowa.

Of course, that scenerio now means that for the 75% of Republicans who do not support Romney, Iowa is suddenly the only place to stop him, or to at least slow down the heir apparent to allow for a more lengthy selection process.

Like Gettysburg, Iowa is not the place where the opposing campaigns expected a decisive battle, but political forces have suddenly made it so.

Has Team Romney gamed Iowa just right, getting in at the end and eeking out a victory that allows them to roll up the nomination quickly?

Or have they sucumbed to an unwitting politcal “rope-a-dope,” lured into Iowa by the temptation of easy pickings, but where a still hostile, socially conservative base will rally around a candidate and irreparably damage Romney’s credibility and chances?

Ignored or marginalized for most of the primary campaign so far this year, Iowa suddenly has the air of a “king maker” again in the final week.

We’ll see.

 

2 comments

  1. Dr. Joseph Baumstein

    Mark my words young man. Ron Paul will win Iowa and Ron Paul will win the GOP nomination and then Ron Paul will lose the election to Barack H. Obama.

    1. duffysoa

      Respectfully, Paul might win Iowa but he has a better chance of winning Powerball than the GOP nomination…..

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