Thursday, January 3, 2008

Huck holds on in Iowa, Romney’s in big trouble

Yesterday I posted my predictions for tonight's Democratic caucuses in Iowa. Here are my thoughts on the Republican race…

Despite doing everything in his power the last few days to blow it, Mike Huckabee will hang on for a comfortable seven- or eight-point win in tonight's caucus. Were the contest to be held most anywhere else Huckabee's recent gaffes might be enough to derail him.

But Iowa's Republican caucus-goers are heavily Evangelical and will vote for the Evangelical candidate regardless of his flubs. They don't much care that he insulted the intelligence of the entire press and pundit class with his "here's the ad I'm not going to run" stunt, and they won't be swayed by Huckabee's crossing the picket line to appear with Jay Leno amid confusion over which late night talk show host settled with striking writers.

Those issues will come back to haunt him as he moves to Eastern and Western states where the influence of Evangelicals isn't as strong, but it won't derail him tonight.

Romney will finish second and McCain will surge to a better than expected third-place finish. The result will set up New Hampshire as THE contest of the 2008 season. Romney cannot lose both New Hampshire and Iowa, or he will be done, no matter how much money he tries to throw at later states. Similarly, McCain can hardly afford to let Romney claim the mantle of frontrunner again.

The desperation from both camps will nearly bring Armageddon to the Granite State. Romney will saturate the airwaves with those disingenuous negative ads where he says "John McCain is an honorable man but he wants illegal immigrants to rape and pillage you." McCain will continue to paint Romney as a flip-flopper and a phony.

It will all come to a head Saturday night and Sunday with the back-to-back debates in New Hampshire. I'll be stunned if Romney gets through the two events without losing his cool. He has shown that the one thing that rattles him is questions about his integrity. And just as he did against Kennedy in 1994, he will completely implode during one of the events. McCain will coolly and gravely outline Romney's shortcomings, and Mitt will flip out on him, confirming for many voters that he's not up to it.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The wild card tonight is Ron Paul. I get the idea that his support is greater than polls indicate, and that he'll post a strong fourth place showing. In fact, I think he may pull a third-place result in New Hampshire.

That will probably mean that Rudy Giuliani is toast. He isn't competing in Iowa and could finish as low as sixth, and if he is out of the top three in New Hampshire, you have to wonder if he can stay a part of the conversation long enough to get to the national primary on February 5. Supposedly he has been planning all along to at least win Florida at the end of this month to remain viable, but if McCain pulls out New Hampshire, I don't think Rudy has a chance.

Fred Thompson is not a serious candidate and never has been. His run has been an exercise in vanity and will be over before February 5.

Here are the numbers tonight as I see them:

Huckabee 34%
Romney 27%
McCain 16%
Paul 10%
Thompson 7%
Giuliani 5%
Hunter 1%
Keyes 0%

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