Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What Last Nights Results Mean, The Rick Perry Rope-a-Dope (That Won't Work)

What Did We Learn In Iowa?
Mitt Romney's ultra-narrow victory over Rick Santorum by a historically-small 8 votes in the Iowa Caucus with Ron Paul a not-too-distant third clearly frames the race going forward.

First, it turns out my predictions were a lot better than I thought last night when I saw the entrance polling.  Indeed, as I'd thought, Paul's avid supporters were not enough to overcome the mass of the less committed but greater numbered Romney and Paul supporters.  And Romney's organization edged out the passion of the "not Mitt" crowd....but just barely.

We already know that Michele Bachmann is out of the race and that Rick Perry is still in (more on that later.)  Let's assess the candidates chances and what they will need to do to secure the nomination.

Mitt Romney - must win New Hampshire.  Not because his back against the wall for the nomination - far from it.  But if Mitt can't win in the moderate neighbor of his home state, how could he possibly win in South Carolina or Florida?  Assuming Romney wins New Hampshire, he can afford a second place finish in South Carolina, although it would likely prolong the race against at least one opponent.

Rick Santorum - needs to register significantly ahead of recent polling. in New Hampshire  He probably needs a top 3 (maybe a top 4 if he and Huntsman are neck and neck) in New Hampshire and then a win in South Carolina.  South Carolina is the most fertile next ground.  If Santorum can be halfway competitive in New Hampshire and win in South Carolina, he's positioned to be a top 2 candidate going into Florida and Super Tuesday.

Ron Paul - must win New Hampshire.  Paul won't drop out of the race, that's to be sure, but he has no better shot to win a primary than New Hampshire and if he fails there, he effectively is relegated back to being a protest candidate.

Jon Huntsman - must win New Hampshire.  Huntsman forwent Iowa to bet the farm on New Hampshire.  He might stay in the race if he gets second, but neither South Carolina nor Florida looks particularly welcoming to his brand of moderate Republicanism.  If he finishes third or below, I suspect he will graciously bow out and endorse Romney.

Rick Perry - must win South Carolina.  Perry has wisely already written off New Hampshire (and wisely so) and hopes to unite the "not Romney" vote in a pretty "not Romney" kind of state.  This is actually more possible than it would look from recent polling.  Gingrich is collapsing, Bachmann is gone and Santorum is about to get a torrent of coverage, much of it about the extreme social conservatism he has preached.  I don't know how gung ho a lot of the Tea Party is going to be about a guy who wants the government to regulate adultery, birth control and sodomy.

Newt Gingrich - must win South Carolina.  Gingrich won't win New Hampshire, but could reinvigorate some of his earlier magic with a South Carolina win.  Gingrich is probably way past his due date, but the "not Romney" crowd may give him a second look if Santorum flames out.

So, we are down from 7 to 6 candidates.  After New Hampshire, we are likely to be down to 5, unless Jon Huntsman catches some fire and fast.  After South Carolina, we are quite likely to be down to 3, Romney, Paul (who may well be a protest candidate at that point) and someone else.  The most interesting fight over the next 2 weeks will likely be for who that "someone else" is.  Romney continues to be a huge favorite to get the nod, but if the right wing consolidates down to one candidate going into Florida, it could make for an interesting - and protracted horse race.  Or Romney might run the table and shut it down early.  But given the ceiling we've seen on Romney's support, I'm betting on the former, although I still believe Romney ultimately gets the reluctant nod from the GOP.

The Ol' Rope-a-Dope
Rick Perry heads back to Texas to "reassess" his campaign, then is full guns ahead as soon as competing conservative Michele Bachmann blinks and drops out?  Nice.

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