My Iowa predictions, and yours?

January 2, 2012

Tomorrow’s the day.

In the last week or so, there’s been a lot of disparaging of what the Iowa caucuses mean and what their actual impact really is, but here’s the bottom line: Iowa has chosen the next president 9 out of the last 15 elections.

And there’s no question that Iowa both lifts candidates (Hey, Barack!) and winnows the field (Arrivederci, Phil Gramm!). 

Basically, Iowa rules.

I’m going to lay out my predictions for Tuesday night’s caucuses right now, after hanging out in Cedar Rapids for almost a month. 

But consider this a challenge: I double dare you to get this Iowa thing more accurately than me. God knows that with about 40 percent of caucus goers still undecided, this could go a million different ways.

If you wanna play, write us here at WBEZ (in the comments section below) and tell us what you think will happen tomorrow night in Iowa. You have to get the order exactly right, and then we’ll see how close you come on percentages. Your percentages should equal a little less than 100 to take into account Buddy Roehmer, Occupy the Caucus, and whatever other protests votes are cast. (More than 100 percent and I won’t count your guesses.) Deadline is noon Tuesday, CST.

Whomever comes closest will get a bottle of Iowa Bourbon Whiskey, courtesy of Cedar Ridge Distillery, the first bourbon distillery in Iowa since Prohibition and an awfully smooth brew.

Because those Iowa folks are very generous, Jeff Quint, Cedar Ridge’s owner, has also offered up a bottle of their Clearheart Vodka, for whomever comes up with the second best predictions.

And I’ll deliver these goodies myself to you. 

So here’s my thinking:

  1. Mitt Romney, 23.2

He’s polling anywhere between 21 and 25 percent, depending on which poll you read, which is essentially the same percentage he’s had since June of last year when it seemed everyone was looking for an alternative. The difference now is that just about all the alternatives have flamed out. And most importantly, the Romney campaign -- which is super-well financed and disciplined -- got 30,000 caucus votes in 2008 that they’ve never let go off. Moreover, though Romney pretended all fall he didn’t care about Iowa, he flip flopped last week and decided to put everything into it. In other words, they made it matter, and they don’t want to be embarrassed, and -- if the way they took down Newt Gingrich here means anything -- they’re lethal. 

2. Ron Paul, 18.5

I’ll confess I’m less sure about Paul than anyone else. Most polls have focused exclusively on registered Republicans, which would miss a lot of his young and independent supporters. But the Des Moines Register Poll, the Delphi Oracle of Iowa politics, has also been showing his support dropping the closer we get to Tuesday. This is, though, a very organized campaign, with an army on the ground that’s completely committed.

3. Rick Santorum, 18.2

Everybody thought Santorum was out a week ago and then, suddenly -- bam! -- he’s the hot new thing. I suspect this is temporary but Santorum is surging at the right time. Moreover, the same Des Moines Register poll suggests that if the surge continues he could win it all. I’ll be surprised about that but not if he comes in second. He does have more than 1,000 speakers already locked up for the caucuses. It’s not Romney’s organization or Paul’s army, but Santorum’s volunteers could be formidable.

4. Newt Gingrich, 14.8

If the caucuses had taken place in early December, Gingrich would have won. But Romney and Paul, that unlikely dynamic duo, teamed up to beat him to a pulp through a series of negative ads. Sure, Newt’s an easy target, but these two -- especially Romney, who hid behind a Super PAC while unleashing some particularly nasty stuff -- know that Gingrich leads the polls in South Carolina and Florida, so hitting him here is as much about Iowa as it is about the long-term race. In the last few days, Gingrich has been trying to recover but I don’t think there’s time for him to actually get people into the caucuses to make his case.

5. Rick Perry, 11

No one has spent more money than Perry in the last few weeks and not even Romney has had as much commercial air time. But then no one else’s commercials have been so relentlessly parodied. He stumbled in the debates and pandered to Iowans by deciding right smack on the campaign trail that he no longer supports abortion in cases of rape and incest. It was an inspired revelation, conveniently at a Pizza Ranch or some such venue. Lastly, he was a total pig to Michelle Bachman by announcing his candidacy on her Ames Straw Poll victory day, and in the last few days he’s been hitting Santorum instead of Romney. This tells us two things: one, he knows he’s in the second tier and is concentrating on evangelicals, and 2) two, the Bachman people have never forgiven him his arrogance and the Santorum people, surging, are laughing all the way to the caucuses. No surprise that, according to the Des Moines Register poll, Perry’s fourth among all candidates as a second choice. Perry has announced that after Iowa he’s skipping New Hampshire and heading straight for South Carolina, where he’s ranking fifth in the polls, after Gingrich, Romney, Paul and even Bachman. Good luck with that, pa’dner.

6. Michelle Bachman, 8

Pretty much everything that could go wrong has gone wrong for Bachman in Iowa. Having won that Ames Poll now looks like a fluke. She’s done a lot of damage to herself with her “misstatements” but the truth is she also has been playing the wrong card here. Calling herself the American Margaret Thatcher in Iowa is petty meaningless. Even if you subscribe to her religious politics, you can skip her and go straight to Santorum, whose religious politics are no less extreme but who seems to know how Washington works.

7. Jon Huntsman, 2

Huntsman isn’t even trying. He recently decided he didn’t even care about pity votes when he explained why he was in New Hampshire and not Iowa: "They pick corn in Iowa. They actually pick presidents here in New Hampshire."

And now it’s your turn. What do you think?