OK, I get that its first and it can establish momentum and that shouldn’t be overlooked or underrated. Clearly the Iowa Caucus cannot crown the nominee, but it can kill a candidacy. If a candidate goes all out in Iowa and finishes no better than 4th, they are likely toast, are you reading Michele Bachmann? If you finish in the top four and have a deep war chest, you can clearly hang in there for some time and pick your battles.
The January contests offer an interesting series of battlegrounds. Candidates will have to kiss social conservative babies, eat corndogs, and pander to some of the nations most socially conservative in Iowa. In New Hampshire, straight talking genuine candidates will do well, though Romney’s home field advantage will be difficult to overcome. South Carolina brings out southern conservatism in full force where he says the nastiest things about President Obama will surely do well. The big ticket is Florida. The sunshine state is a microcosm for the whole nation and could give a sense of the ‘electability’ question. The candidates will do their best Sybil impersonations as they pander to blocs of Jews, Latinos, seniors, rednecks, and the underemployed and unemployed.
Perry, Bachmann, and Santorum are fighting over the uber socially conservative elements meaning that only one of them can be this election’s Huckabee and still be standing on January 31st. Huntsman’s only chance is for the pack to attack Romney in New Hampshire as the former Utah Governor has split eights, double downed, and put everything on 00 with a New Hampshire win. Not a bad strategy in most campaigns, but not with Massachusetts Mitt in the running. Ron Paul, will stick around because he believes so deeply in his message and his followers are the most rabid. That leaves us with Gingrich. If Newt cannot win in South Carolina and finish top two in Florida, he is toast. No amount of social re-engineering will be able to save him.
So does Iowa really matter? Yes, but not as much as you think. With so much campaign money and 3rd party influence from Super PACS and other private organizations the odds of a grass roots movement taking hold are getting slimmer. And when the party leaders back a candidate it is next to impossible to overcome that inertia. When a Mike Huckabee wins the Iowa Caucus it means very little because he is not the party choice. When George W.Bush wins, it speeds shortens the campaign because he is the Party’s guy. Simply, there is no causality between an Iowa win and the nomination. There is correlation however. When the party’s choice wins Iowa he has a significantly greater chance of locking up the nomination.
So what will happen on Tuesday night? The Paul ground game will convert most of the undecided at the caucus ending up with 32%. Romney will come in second at 23% and Santorum right behind at 20%. The rest will be split amongst the next tier. Romney go on about how he exceed expectations, though it will be about what he got in 2008, Santorum will go straight to South Carolina where he will make his last stand with Bachmann. Paul will get a bump in New Hampshire and will hound Romney.
But don’t go by me, I’ve never been to Iowa.