Well, I have been waiting for news out of Iowa. My gut tells me that Romney is righting the ship and the latest Insider Advantage Poll at Realclearpolitics.com says that Mitt is up by 3 points amongst “Highly Likely” voters. The “Highly Likely” voter edge is an indication that Huck’s surge may end up in hindsight as simply a “flavor of the month” episode— a restless bout of Republican fidgeting before they finally seal the deal with Romney. Remember 1999 when Republican activists were suspicious about George W. Bush’s hazy views on abortion and myriad other issues? Of course you don’t. It really happened, but American’s are forgetful voters. And such matters as squinting at Romney’s conservative bona fides may be ancient history come summertime—especially if it’s Mitt v. Hillary in the big dance.
My gut tells me that Huck’s surge may still take a backseat to Romney’s year of heavy-duty field organizing in Iowa. And even if it’s close with Mitt in 2nd, well, then Mitt is the comeback kid and he will hang on to his big lead in New Hampshire. Also, if Mitt wins in Iowa, watch for him to start emphasizing his centrist past, trotting out his New Englander magic, along with the centrist legacy of his Michigander Dad. George Romney's image can now be found online at the NYT, on stage with the Supremes as well as in Romney speeches marching with Martin Luther King, Jr. You won’t find pics or stories of Goldwater doing stuff like that (or Nixon or Reagan for that matter). That may kill McCain and leave Romney as the alternative to Rudy in S.C.
Back to Mitt v. Huck…I have made thousands of poll calls myself (and hundreds of GOTV and volunteer reminder calls). The fact of the matter is, many people will tell a pollster they are going to vote (out of what I call civic-duty embarrassment), but only those who are die hard caucus goers are likely to show up on the evening of January 3rd. I know a lot of otherwise-dedicated Church-going old ladies, who are found safe at home if it snows on Sunday morning. And it’s hard to imagine those little old ladies showing up to caucus on a frosty evening in January whether or not there is ice on the road. However, if these same elderly ladies are the ones who have been attacking McCain over immigration at meet-ups in Iowa, they might just be at the Baptist Church on Sunday, but at the Caucus voting for Romney on Thursday.
Iowa will either be: 1) A close win for Huckabee; 2) A close win for Romney; or 3) Romney will break away and win comfortably (by that I am talking 4-5 points…not your usual breakaway of 7-10 points or so in a regular election). Remember, it’s a primary with a crowded field and things have been fluid. Expect more fluidity as we see the media’s classic primary horse-race narrative crunched into the next two weeks.
Will there be surprises?
It’s hard to say, but if Thompson makes a move, it’s not going to be like what we saw with Kerry and the Democrats in ’04, because the Republican caucus uses private ballots and they don't seem to have what I call the “caucus herd” phenomenon on their side.
I had planned on just leaving my pontificating to Iowa, but I have an incontrollable urge to make some bigger predictions [hey, I can always delete them later!]:
1) If Romney’s strategy turns out to work for him in Iowa and New Hampshire and then he picks up (or is close) in South Carolina-Michigan-Nevada, but Giuliani holds on to a win in Florida, then things could get interesting. What if the Republicans go into February 5th without their normal consensus leader? What if Romney and Giuliani split the 2/5 baby and McCain and Huck bring up the rear? I know every political junkie likes to talk about the possibility of a convention fight, and in past years I just sighed or snickered when I heard that kind of talk. But with split loyalties in the first few contests and an overloaded Mega Tuesday on February 5th, I think it’s not a far-fetched possibility. Am I predicting it? No. But is it more possible than in recent decades? Yes. [Candidates may want to keep Theodore H. White’s account of Kefauver, Kennedy & the gang scrapping for VP in ‘56 handy just in case— because that’s what it will look like folks…fist fights and all!]
2) I predict that Romney will be the Republican nominee. That’s 60% my gut talking and 40% my brain.
3) The Dems: I just don’t know. If Edwards can pull a rabbit out of his hat, reconfigure himself as the “sunshine boy” while somehow hanging on to the strident left, he could still make things interesting. One fault of some progressive activists is that they underestimate the flexibility, tolerance and diversity of American voters. At the last moment, some of these activists might subconsciously go for the white male because they think he is most electable. Edwards needs to start talking electability (for his sake, that is…I think all three Democrats are electable, including Hillary). In fact, I actually think that of the three, Edwards is the least electable. But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t pitch electability to primary voters--some may buy it. Obama has already made things interesting, but there is still plenty of time for the Clintons to pull out all of the stops along with a quarter century's worth of hard-ball expertise.
4) My gut says that if Hillary wins in New Hampshire, we will see Clinton ’92 nostalgia and Hillary will then move on to more victories. But, don’t count out Obama’s field work in many a February 5th outpost. O.K., I really hedged on that one.
5) Did I really say what I said in #2? I think I did. I have felt it for some time and the whole rise of Huck has not changed my feelings that Romney is going to take the Republican nomination. Yes, I could be wrong (but only like scores of times before).