Iowa Predictions

While I have no idea what the outcome of Iowa will be (and I doubt anyone else does either), I’ll venture a few predictions for tomorrow’s matchup in Iowa:

On the Republican side, Huckabee peaked too early. The attention he got caused people to take a look at his record, and it’s not good. Huckabee sailed in on homespun congeniality, but the more people look, the less substance he has, and where has has substantive positions they usually rub the Republican base the wrong way. I would cautiously predict that Huckabee will do worse than expected—mainly because he has nowhere to go but down. His support is soft, and he doesn’t seem to be moving in the right direction to take a convincing win.

It’s safe to predict a Romney win, since he’s poured so much into Iowa. However, to be viable, he has to pull off a convincing win. If Huckabee is sliding, that benefits Romney.

There’s not one, but two dark horses in Iowa. McCain and Thompson are fighting for third place, and both have been doing better than expected. Thompson needs a strong third-place finish in Iowa to remain viable. McCain hasn’t campaigned in Iowa, but does have a base of support there. Zogby is showing a late breakout towards Thompson. If Fred can get 15%+ that keeps him alive until South Carolina. If McCain does well (double digits) that keeps him alive until New Hampshire, where he has a chance at the top. It all depends on where those last undecided voters go—if Thompson were to pick up a lion’s share of undecided voters (which seems possible), that could give him the finish they need. If they go to McCain, that puts McCain a real edge given that New Hampshire will give him a boost as well.

The real story of the Republican side of Iowa is not who wins, but who gets out alive. I’m guessing that we’ll lose Rep. Hunter by the end of the week, since he has no traction nor any chance of gaining it.

Rudy’s out of Iowa—last year he was the front-runner, now he’s running a dangerous game that could easily put him out of the race before he really gets started. He won’t break single digits in Iowa, but what he needs is for Iowa and New Hampshire to be won by different people so that no front-runner emerges. If Romney wins both, Giuliani may be in trouble.

On the Democratic side, Clinton, Edwards, and Obama are all in play. I doubt Edwards will win, although he’ll come in a strong third. His brand of economic populism plays well with the Democratic base, but he’s not electable, and he’s been running for office longer than gaining experience. He couldn’t win his old Senate seat back, and he and Kerry lost ground against Bush. Kerry was smart enough to realize that he was damaged goods—Edwards is too vain to notice.

The Obama-Clinton race will be the one to watch. Obama’s run a campaign much like Howard Dean’s, except smarter. He also has the same problem that Dean has—his base of support is with people who don’t tend to vote. Still, I wouldn’t count him out. My sense is that he could very well win in Iowa, which would put Mrs. Inevitable in a very tight spot. Obama’s playing a dangerous game, however. The Clinton smear machine has him in their sights, and while their first shots were weak, sooner or later they’ll take him down.

If Clinton wins, it puts Obama in a tight spot. He has to perform, and he needs national momentum to do that. A Clinton victory puts the spotlight on her, and without an upset, Obama’s strength in Iowa will be put a roadblock to her path to the nomination.

If I had to guess, I’d say the former frontrunners will be the future frontrunners: which means narrow wins for Clinton and Romney. Huckabee leaves Iowa intact, but the pressure on him won’t go away, and he’ll do poorly in New Hampshire. Thompson needs a strong third place finish in Iowa and a win (or near win) in South Carolina to stay alive—which means that Thompson will need to campaign hard in South Carolina to keep Huckabee down.

Of course, all these predictions are going by the polls. The polls, as in 2004, could be entirely wrong. Thompson’s Iowa barnstorm could turn him into the John Kerry of the GOP, the single-digit candidate who suddenly became the frontrunner. Huckabee could collapse as Dean did, and for some of the same reasons. Clinton could sink and Obama could soar. Edwards’ populism could propel him to the top. McCain could surge in Iowa and then take down Romney in New Hampshire, putting him ahead.

Part of the fun of Iowa is watching expectations crash and burn, and there could be a lot of political wreckage strewn from Council Bluffs to Dubuque after tomorrow night.

UPDATE: Bob Novak predicts Hillary will come in third in Iowa. That would be a real blow to her campaign. However, I think the “Dean factor” is at play here—a candidate that excites younger voters doesn’t do so well in caucuses which are dominated by older voters who are deeply entrenched into politics. Then again, a narrow Clinton win doesn’t help her much, as it leaves two viable competitors who could present further challenges down the road.

7 thoughts on “Iowa Predictions

  1. My predictions. Thompson will finish below third place and drop out before New Hampshire. He never ignited nationally, and there are no signs of a late spark happening in Iowa. Undecided folk will not turn to him. I think Huckabee will get the win but it’s too close to call. A Romney win wouldn’t be the safe bet.

    As far as the Dem’s go it’s Obama or Edwards. That’s a toss up too, but I give Obama the advantage. Clinton will come in third.

    Where did you get the ridiculous idea that Edwards “couldn’t win his old Senate seat back”? A poll in The Raleigh News & Observer in July showed Mr. Edwards leading the probable Republican nominee, Representative Richard M. Burr of Winston-Salem, 47 percent to 39 percent.

    What do you base that idea on?

  2. What do you base that idea on?

    That Edwards didn’t run in 2003 because of low poll numbers. The fact that he couldn’t deliver a single Southern state—not even a potential swing state like West Virginia—to Kerry also shows what a weak candidate he was. He could swing a strong placement in Iowa thanks to the way the Democratic caucuses are arranged, but I rather doubt he has much of a chance of getting the nomination unless Barack Obama really implodes.

  3. That’s interesting Jay, I’ve never seen that memo before. I guess that is why Biden is rumored to be throwing his votes to Obama.

    I’m not a big Edwards support but from what I’ve seen his approval rating in NC in July 2004 was over 50%. I don’t think that number would have prevented him from running and winning in 2003, but who knows.

    Thanks for the info.

  4. I have asked this before, sorry for the inconvenience…
    You use the word “populism” to describe Edwards’ campaign. In German, “Populismus” means, more or less, having no substance and no backbone – you say whatever people want to hear and don’t really stand for anything – you do anything just to please your audience.
    Now, it seems that in your usage “populism” means something not quite that negative. Could you explain to me (sluggish brain) again what populism in American politics means?
    Thanks, and happy New Year, belatedly.


  5. Janek: Happy New Year!

    I actually like the German definition. 🙂

    In the US, “populism” generally refers to an ideology that tries to divide the “people” from the “elites.” Edwards has a standard “Two Americas” speech that tries to divide the “people” from the “powerful.” Both American parties have populist rhetoric to certain extends, the GOP uses populism when they focus on things like judicial activism (when judges go beyond the Constitution and enact their own idea of social reform), taxes and attacks on the mainstream media. Democrats tend to be economic populists, meaning that they tend to attack corporations and the rich.

    What I like about the German definition is that’s what populism often is—a way for a candidate to put themselves on the side of the “people” while actually enacting policies that end up hurting people. My other critique of populism is that the US is just too big to divide things between the “people” and the “powerful.” What appeals to a Midwestern autoworker ends up hurting a Silicon Valley programmer and vice versa. There isn’t an “average American” because we’re such a diverse society.

    Anyway, hopefully that gives you an answer…

  6. The news outlets are calling Iowa for Huckabee….if this holds true this is a huge huge upset in that the guy spent and had very little money. He is sure to get a bounce into New Hampshire and money coming in……if Romney loses NH, he is done…and we wi\oudl be left with Huckabee and McCain……..

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