Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Political Junkie Christmas

Since it is a new year I feel I should have a resolution. In the real world I have resolved to complain less and enjoy more. But here in the cyber world I thought I should have a more concrete goal. Something like resolving to actually post a few blogs on my blog.

Today is like Christmas for political junkies because it is Iowa caucus day! And even better than that, it is totally unpredictable Iowa caucus day! By my count at least six different candidates have been in the lead during some portion of the Iowa campaign season (Bachmann, Cain, Perry, Gingrich, Paul and Romney) and a seventh (Santorum) appears to have the momentum now. So anything might happen. I think the most interesting dynamic is the fact that 41% of likely voters who already have a first choice candidate say they could be swayed to change their pick.  That does not include the sizable number of undecided voters.

If you have never participated in a caucus, just know it is very different than regular voting. The polls are not open all day for you to drop off an anonymous ballot. Instead, everyone shows up and the same time and sits in cliques for their candidate. You actually see who is supporting which candidate. This means peer pressure can play a huge part in the decision making process. If you show up intending to support Michelle Bachman but then notice your boss, your father-in-law and your best customer all sitting with the Ron Paul group, and the Bachmann group is pretty small and insignificant anyway, well, maybe you go ahead and switch seats just to be safe.

There is also always the chance for a last minute deal, either by a candidate or by a candidate's supporters at a local level. Again, suppose in a couple of caucus sites it is very close between Paul, Romney and Santorum, as the polls suggest. Now suppose the Bachman and Gingrich groups realize they are too small and their candidates are goners. But Gingrich is in a war of words with Romney (calling him a liar on TV this morning) and Bachmann supporters are mad at Paul for stealing campaign staffers, so they agree, amongst themselves, to support the candidate who is socially conservative and can cause the most problems for Romney and Paul - Rick Santorum. so, just before the final count they all move and declare their support for Santorum who suddenly wins that caucus site. Given how the social conservative wing has flailed about in an attempt to find an ABR candidate (anybody but Romney) I would not be surprised to see those types of switches happen. I don't think Romney will lose too many people - he is seen as a moderate and his supporters are less likely to tack to the right, I would guess. Paul supporters seem fanatically loyal so I do not expect him to suffer losses of this kind. But the supporters of the other four candidates seem less loyal to any person and are more about an agenda, so I could easily see huge swings as the voters try and find a candidate who can beat Mitt Romney.

As it is, the Iowa caucuses are shaping up to be better than Romney could have ever hoped for when he started his campaign. Until recently he did not think he could do well enough in Iowa to justify time or money. Instead he concentrated on New Hampshire where he is expected to win convincingly. But the ebb and flow of the campaign has left him an opening to win Iowa, have Ron Paul (who cannot win the nomination or the general election) finish second and the social conservative of the moment, probably Santorum, third. Romney's fear has always been that one social conservative candidate would emerge, draw in the support and money of that wing of the party and he would have a long, bloody battle to the finish. Instead, the four main conservative challengers remaining have swapped the mantle amongst themselves (and Herman Cain) with no one emerging. Ron Paul is far too extreme for most voters and could not gather enough support to win, so having him finish second just hurts the social conservative candidate more. In fact, Romney's second best scenario is a Paul win with Romney second. Given Romney's lead in New Hampshire, and the news this week that only Paul and Romney qualified for the ballot in Virginia, a win tonight would essentially give Romney a 3-0 lead in the early states against BGPS (Bachmann Gingrich Perry Santorum), and maybe enough momentum to coast to the nomination.

My prediction (for what it is worth, given how fluid things have been), Romney wins narrowly over Paul with Santorum a very strong third, Perry a distant fourth and Bachmann edging Gingrich for fifth. Bachman will probably bow out after New Hampshire, Gingrich and Perry may try to hang around for South Carolina in hopes of winning the very conservative, religious block there and jump starting their campaigns.

Happy New Year and Merry Political Junkie Christmas!

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