Romney's problem is still that he's Romney. Don't expect better than third out of him in Iowa. The reasons are many and manifest and have been talked about and written about until they are likely carved into tablets of jade somewhere. Evangelicals, and there are a lot of them in Iowa, won't get behind a Mormon. The nice Christian activists won't say "cult" but they are thinking it. And the conservatives don't think Romney's a conservative. Romneycare, abortion, gay rights, global warming, blah, blah, blah. He spends too much time explaining his past and in politics when you're explainin', you're losin'. He'll do well in New Hampshire since they are more intimately aware of his political evolution. But if he wins, it won't be by as much as predicted and then he's off to South Carolina for a big time butt whuppin'. Romney gets to Florida politically wounded. Romney's not likely to do better than third on January third. He is still the GOP's best chance to win in 2012 because he is the most moderate but that also makes it impossible for him to win his own party's primary.
As for Newt, the polls in Iowa and elsewhere have been friendly to him but the voters in Iowa will be less magnanimous. They aren't likely to be as forgiving as the analysts think. Remember that only 120,000 Republicans took part in the 2008 caucus. Might be more this time but no way to know. Caucuses, as everyone knows, require active participation that goes beyond just punching buttons in a booth. People have to drag themselves out in the cold to community centers, homes, police stations, etc, sit through speeches, and then make a decision. This kind of set up discriminates and the devoted and fervent and devout are the ones who turn out. Note that last word. The devout are the voters who gave '08 to Mike Huckabee. This time they'll vote against Newt. He's just not convinced them he's one of them even if they do forgive him is marital indiscretions. And the ones who do forgive him are likely to be pissy about his lobbying and insider status in DC. The main asset working in Newt's behalf is the electorate's perception of a guy who can intellectually stand toe-to-toe with the president in a debate. But that will matter less in Iowa where the values voters don't mind getting their toes cold tromping through the snow to make their opinions known. Newt is the favorite, nonetheless, to win Iowa but if he does, it won't be by much, and don't be surprised if he finishes second.
Ron Paul is the guy who could end up as the Mike Huckabee of 2008. He might even do considerably better throughout the spring. Paul's numbers in Iowa are strong and don't waver. He needs to break through his traditional ceiling of low to mid-teens but appears poised to do that in Iowa. In fact, as primary and caucus voters grow more and more disgruntled with their available choices as well as the president, Paul's support may increase. Doesn't matter, though. He's going to stay around 20 percent and high teens all through this election cycle, unless one of the more "traditional" candidates catches fire with a message. This is where Paul wins; his message has been consistent his entire political career and it seems more resonant in this election cycle when Romney spends his time explaining who he isn't and Gingrich acts like he is intellectually ordained and Perry cannot master declarative sentences. There actually isn't a single candidate in this cycle who has an accessible message that is unmistakable to the electorate in the GOP, which is why Paul may very well win in Iowa in spite of his soft support among evangelicals who want to push religion into public institutions. He has a message and as frustration with Washington grows almost daily, his message gains more believers.
Which points to the tragedy of Rick Perry. On the surface, he looked like the guy. He had the Christian rap, touted the dogma of values voters on abortion and gay marriage, had run a huge state for a decade, looked good on TV, and was a Washington outsider. But then he started talking. A message isn't of much value if the candidate can't even articulate it. But Perry's likely to get a second look. Cain's supporters ran off to Newt but Newt is like a houseguest who stays a few days too long. He'll wear out. And the evangelicals and Tea Party types are likely to not give a damn that Perry can't complete a declarative sentence. His stumble on immigration might still hurt him with some but he's been hammering the message of shutting down the border with the military the day he takes office and that's the type of rhetoric right-wingers like to hear. He's off on a long bus tour of Iowa, capitalizing on his acknowledged retail politicking skills and he's spending a fortune on advertising in the state. Plus there are internal numbers that now show Perry tracking into the high teens on polls. He might be writing a comeback narrative.
Santorum and Bachmann don't figure large in the results in Iowa, although Bachmann is on a bus tour through all of the state's counties. Her message is as unclear as Santorum's. "I'm the real conservative in this race," isn't going to work when every candidate is making a similar claim. They will likely grab 5-8 percent each of the vote total on caucus day. They both expect to do better but they don't have the money or the following essential to make a big impact in Iowa.
Where does this leave us? Bus tours and one more debate and advertising are going to have some impact but Iowa is going to be the first state in the process and will reflect what we will see on the long road ahead, which is a difficult campaign. We might end up with four candidates sharing totals in the high teens to the low twenties coming out of Iowa and into NH. One scenario might have Paul with 21 percent, Newt at 19 or 20, Romney and Perry both around 18, and Santorum and Bachmann sharing the remainders. This is likely the case, though those places could juggle a few percentage points. NH can be expected to be slightly different with Romney winning and Newt and Paul and Perry scrapping for second with not much separation. South Carolina will turn away from Romney and Perry and Paul and Newt will duke it out. Perry could take SC if the electorate has grown tired of Newt and Paul does not appear electable.
We could go all the way through Super Tuesday in the first week of March and still not know who will be the nominee of the Republican Party. There are potentially four candidates who consistently pull 18-20 percent of the vote, which means the GOP will not easily make a choice.
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