The Iowa Caucuses: What to Expect

Twenty-four hours before the Iowa caucses, the official beginning of the nomination process for the president of the United States, what to expect is as unknown as it was six months ago. All of the major candidates have something win or lose in the caucuses, and there is a high chance that at least one candidate, and maybe more, will drop out after a less than stellar showing in the caucuses. Here is each candidate’s position in the caucuses:

Mitt Romney: After a terribly unsatisfying conclusion in 2008 to his months of campaigning for the caucuses, Romney has worked to keep low key his expectations for the caucuses. He has focused much more on New Hampshire, with little to no campaigning in Iowa. Despite this, there are signs that he is in a position to have a strong finish in the caucuses. Romney has continued to keep supporters of his 2008 campaign engaged, and there is hope that with the social conservative vote splintered, Romney may be able to win a sizable position in the caucuses. With Romney on track to win the New Hampshire primary on January 10, if he were to win the Iowa caucuses tomorrow as well, the GOP race would probably be as good as over.

Ron Paul: Paul has also been able to keep the supporters of his 2008 campaign energized, and has recently seen a steady rise in his support going into the caucuses. His message of stark fiscal conservatism has played well to voters in this economic climate, and his rise comes at the perfect time going into the caucuses. Despite this, a Ron Paul caucus win would be dismissed by many as a fluke. Paul has little chance of winning the GOP nomination due to his non interventionist foreign policy, something that many of his rivals like to point out. A Paul win in the Iowa caucuses might give some momentum to his campaign, however overall it would not upset the GOP race in any significant manner.

Newt Gingrich: Until weeks ago, Gingrich was seen as the primary challenger to Romney, however a blistering campaign of criticism from his rivals, primarily Paul and Romney, his caused his support to wane in the polls. His failure to get on the Virginia March 6 primary ballot has raised further questions about his viability as a candidate. Despite this, Gingrich commands considerable support in South Carolina still, and is still an active player in the GOP race. If Gingrich were to win in Iowa, it would significantly re-energize his campaign, however the chances of this happening have become slimmer and slimmer as the caucuses draw closer.

Rick Santorum: Santorum has bet his entire campaign on a strong finish in Iowa. He has campaigned almost exclusively in Iowa, visiting all 99 counties multiple times, and until recently it had looked like it was for nothing. Until recently, Santorum had been the only candidate not to peak and get looked at as a conservative challenger to Romney. In the past week, however, Santorum has surged in polling in Iowa, and is well poised now to take at least a third place finish in the caucuses. If Santorum does not finish strong in the caucuses, I expect that he will drop out within the week leading up to the New Hampshire primary. If he does do well, however, he could throw yet another wild card into the GOP race, competing well in socially conservative South Carolina and beyond.

Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann: Both Perry and Bachmann have been competing more and more actively in Iowa as the caucuses have drawn closer. Both peaked late in the summer, and both have dropped significantly in their polling since their peak. I expect that neither will do particularly well in the caucuses. Bachmann I predict will drop out within the next week, most likely endorsing Santorum (as she has been urged to do by conservative leaders in Iowa already). Perry has the advantage of a strong fundraising war chest, and while I think he has the possibility of staying in the race beyond the Iowa caucuses, I think that there is a strong chance that he will drop out after the caucuses also.

Jon Huntsman: Huntsman has not campaigned at all in Iowa, focusing on New Hampshire in hopes that his more moderate positions will draw support in the primaries, where both Republicans and independents can vote.

It will be interesting to see what happens tomorrow in the caucuses, and how the race goes over the next week leading up to the New Hampshire primaries. The ability for quite a few candidates to stay in the race could depend on the caucus results, and the dropping out and endorsements from them could change the GOP race in unexpected ways.

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  • hartwe60  On January 4, 2012 at 11:19 am

    The results of the Iowa have shown that your analysis is correct but lucky the race in not over with a close finish between Romney and Santorum. However if Romney dominates in New Hampshire I believe that you could be right that the Republican Primary could be over quickly.

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