Wednesday, January 2, 2008

It's Edwards to win in Iowa

What will most likely turn out to be the most exciting, interesting--dare I say, fun--two months of politics most of us will ever witness kicks off tomorrow night with the Iowa caucuses. This is the first completely open election of my lifetime (where neither a sitting president nor vice president is on the ballot) and the run up to the first contest has been as entertaining as any of us could have hoped. And there is a real possibility that tomorrow's results will be the climax that political junkies have hoped for each year: the results could throw the campaign even further into chaos and leave us essentially where we were a year ago, no closer to a pair of nominees.

But someone has to win. So in front of that backdrop, here are my predictions for what will happen tomorrow in Iowa and next Tuesday in New Hampshire, starting with the Democrats.

The polls in Iowa are all over the place, but I have a hunch that John Edwards is going to barely win what essentially will be a two-way tie with Barack Obama, with Clinton trailing by six or seven points. Edwards has won in Iowa before, and his organization and liberal turn will resonate with enough of the state's working-class Democrats to eke out a victory (man, do I sound like a real pundit or what).

Obama will do well as college students return to campuses a little early and independents choose the Democratic caucus over the Republican contest. I don't think that will be enough to give him a win, but it will be enough that he can try to spin the result as a tie.

Clinton is already starting to lower expectations (she claimed this morning that girls don't caucus well!) and probably realizes that she's not going to take the state. She is strong enough to finish near the top, and the real test will be in how she is able to frame the finish. If she's successful is claiming that she did very well in a state which was very tough for her (given Edwards' strength and Obama's celebrity) she will be positioned to be the Comeback Kid II with a good showing in New Hampshire. If the narrative that comes out of Iowa is that Clinton blew a lead and is vulnerable, she might in fact be.

If there is a viable fourth-place candidate (and by viable, I mean at least double-digits), I think Joe Biden could pull off a minor surprise and be the one. Indications from the state show that crowds at his events have been picking up and if Biden is the second choice of a number of the other lesser candidates, he could sneak back into the race, although I don't think he'll be anything more than a long shot.

The second-place aspect of the caucus also could swing a few points in the direction of one of the leading candidates and make the difference. Kucinich has already suggested that his supporters caucus with Obama if Kucinich is below 15% at a particular caucus. While he does not have enough supporters to make a huge difference, someone like Bill Richardson does. Richardson has been considered close to the Clintons...could his supporters move en masse to Hillary in precincts where Richardson is not viable? Polls suggest that his level of support is high enough to tip the scales completely in favor of one candidate or another should his voters move together.

Of course, Richardson is currently in fourth place in polls, so it could be him and not Biden who hangs on for another week.

Trying to pinpoint the numbers, I predict:

What would those results mean for New Hampshire? If Edwards wins, it won't matter whether or not Clinton or Obama is second or third, the two sitting senators will remain frontrunners, setting up a monumental showdown in the Granite State.

If Obama wins, I think he rides a wave of momentum to the nomination. If Clinton wins, Obama can still remain viable if he finishes second, but he must win in New Hampshire. Clinton or Obama are only in big trouble if they finish third and the other wins.

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