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As most of you know, I'm a big fan of Barack Obama. But as a political handicapper, I can be somewhat objective. I'll take the time now to predict the outcomes of the Presidential nominating fights on both sides.

Let's start with the Democrats. Assuming New Hampshire isn't a jerk, and Florida isn't stupid, the order of the primaries will be Iowa on January 14th, Nevada on January 19th, New Hampshire on January 22nd, and South Carolina on January 29th, with a barrage of states on February 5th, with California, New Jersey, Florida, and Michigan likely participating. That day will include more than a dozen contests, with possibly as many as a third of the Democratic convention's delegates at stake on that one day. At least that's the situation for the Democrats.

The Republicans will hold their Iowa and New Hampshire contests on the same day as the Democrats, but will hold South Carolina a few days after the Democrats do, but before February 5th. The February 5th national primary day will be the same for the Republicans.

So, this is where I think the race stands. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards are competing for the top three spots in Iowa with former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack. None of the other candidates realistically think they have a shot in Iowa with those four in the race. Because Vilsack is from Iowa, he is in an impossible situation. He must come in first in Iowa just to be a viable candidate, but a win in Iowa is no guarantee he will be a factor anywhere else. If Vilsack comes in anything less than first, he will drop out of the race.

Edwards, because he is the Iowa frontrunner and came in a close second three years ago, he also must win the Iowa caucuses. A second place finish will not kill him, but he'll be sigificantly weakened. A third or fourth place finish would nearly end his campaign. Obama and Clinton, because of their national organizations and frontrunner status, can afford a second or third place finish without being significantly wounded. A first place finish would give either of them unstoppable momentum, but a fourth place finish for either would weaken them severely. The point is, one of those four will be nearly kicked out of the race from Iowa. Iowa is an eliminator.

So then we go to Nevada. Edwards, because of his union support, must get first or second here, anything less would be deadly to him. Bill Richardson, who is from the Southwest and is Latino, must also come in first or second in Nevada to have any relevance in the process whatsoever. Clinton and Obama must come in at least third place, or will be viewed as weak and won't be able to recover. Therefore, Nevada is an eliminator, as one candidate won't survive it.

Next is New Hampshire, where Clinton and Obama are viewed as strongest. This contest will be decisive, as both Obama and Clinton must win, and definitely not come in less than second. Chris Dodd has also staked his claim to the nomination on New Hampshire, since he is from New England. He must place at least third to remain in the game. An Edwards finish lower than fourth would also kill his campaign. Therefore, New Hampshire will eliminate a candidate or severely wound them as well.

Finally, South Carolina is a must win for both Obama and Edwards. Edwards, who won South Carolina in 2004, was born there, and is a son of the South. If he loses the primary, he will be finished. If Obama, who is black, loses a primary where almost 50% of the electorate will be African-American, he will also be finished. Clinton must, simply because of her status, get at least third here. Joe Biden has decided his strategy to the nomination runs through South Carolina, and therefore, a less than third place finish here will kill him.

So after these four contests, where seven candidates all must score in the top three at some point, at least four will be eliminated, and the contests will sort the remaining three in terms of strength. Therefore, our party goes into February 5th with no more than three candidates, with one or two probably stronger than the rest.

Therefore, February 5th has the power to decide the nominee or prolong the fight till early March, when another Super Tuesday will occur. The only people who will have the standing and the money to win on February 5th are Obama, Clinton, and Edwards, and if one of them is already eliminated before that day, it will be decisive. Unfortunately for Edwards, out of the four big states, New Jersey, Michigan, California, and Florida, that hold contests that day, he has no strength in any of them. Therefore, the outcome of that day could depend on whether Clinton or Obama win big on the 5th.

In the end, I think that Edwards will probably not do as well as expected (it's hard when you're the frontrunner in Iowa, Nevada, and South Carolina, you've got to place first in all three or look weak), and Clinton will probably place low in a number of the early contests, weakening her. I think all of the second tier candidates will all flounder, with maybe one exception, who will be eliminated after February 5th. On February 5th, Edwards, who will already be weak form the first few contests, will not do well, eliminating him. Obama and Clinton will probably pretty evenly split wins on February 5th, which will set up a contest leading up to the next Super Tuesday in March. Obama will probably do well in Ohio and some other states that day and Obama and Clinton will be neck and neck until the convention. In fact, I see a convention fight as likely in 2008. I know I'm out there in left field with this thinking, but I believe that Edwards will probably stick it out to the end, as a distant third place, and one of the lesser candidates will also have a sizable delegate count and will stick it out till the convention too. With Hillary and Obama nearly even in the delegate count and both with less than 50% of the delegates, I think we will see this fight go to a second ballot at the convention. The second ballot will probably see some of Edwards' votes go to Clinton and Obama pretty evenly, and Edwards will decide to endorse one or the other on the third ballot, and then we will have our nominee. I think Edwards is likely to endorse Obama, but who knows.

As for the Republicans, who I know a lot less about, I think Iowa will be very decisive. McCain is strong there, but Brownback and Huckabee might surprise some people. I think McCain may end up losing Iowa in an upset, and Brownback and Huckabee will be propelled into the top tier. New Hampshire will be a fight among McCain, Giuliani, and Romney for the country club Republican vote, which I think Rudy will win. We then go to South Carolina, where McCain, who will be weakened at this point, will square off against Gilmore, Hunter, Brownback, and Huckabee. The winner of that primary, and the second place finisher, will set up a contest between Rudy, McCain, and either Brownback or Huckabee. I do not think that Romney stands a chance, and I've spoken to evangelicals who tell me that Mormonism is going to really hurt him. We then will go to February 5th, where the conservative alternative, likely Huckabee or Brownback (all the former governors and congressmen in the race will have dropped out by now and Gingrich won't run) will not do very well. Rudy and McCain will clean up, and they will fight it out till March, when a bunch of Southern states will support the conservative alternative. I think, similarly to the Democrats, Republicans will have a brokered convention, where Giuliani and McCain will be roughly tied in the delegate count, and the conservative alternative will have a substantial 10%-20% of the vote. This will set up a second ballot that I think will escape from Rudy to McCain and the conservative and eventually Rudy will endorse McCain on the third ballot in exchange for a VP slot. McCain, in my opinion, will turn out as the nominee.

That's my view of the race, what's yours?

3 comments:

Chris Dodge said...

I think you are correct overall, but have let a bit of bias slip in. I disagree that anything but a first place finish in SC finishes off Edwards, also, I think your analysis of NH is off. Dodd will not place top 3 in NH, period. An ARG poll of NH in December had Edwards a mere 3 points behind Obama, who was about 15 behind Hillary. Considering Obama got perhaps the most generous coverage EVER in the month of December in NH, that 3 point margin should be reason to worry for Obama supporters. NH is a fickle state, Dean was beating Kerry by upwards of 25 points just a few weeks before the primary and we all know how that turned out. Now lets say Edwards wins Iowa (just because), then places either narrowly first or second in NV, then lets say 2/3 in NH, he can EASILY sustain a 2nd place finish in SC. Since he is no longer representing NC in the Senate he is less of a regional candidate than he was a few years ago, SC isn't 'his' state so to say. At that point, Edwards will have a top 2 finish in 3 of the first 4 states, at least, possibly top 2 in all of them. Lets face it, this bares a lot similarity to 2004, whoever wins Iowa will have a disproportionate amount of momentum going into the next 3. Why is it again that a rural, small and homogeneous state gets such disproportionate influence in selecting our candidate? That and those damn farm subsidies...

Michael Karno said...

Disclosure: I'm for Edwards

I agree a lot with what Chris said. The Iowa caucuses are going to be huge. Even though Edwards has less support in national polls that Obama and Hilary, I think that's more a function of him getting an unfairly low amount of media coverage. The primary process really favors Edwards. If he has a strong enough showing in Iowa and it motivates his supporters/other dems to have a really strong showing in NH, NV and SC, it matters little that he's not polling that high in the Feb 5th states. He will if he does well in the initial primaries.

Hilary could do well if the media coverage keeps focusing on her and people start buying into some inevitability of her doing well. I don't sense that her grassroots support is very strong though and I bet she finishes fourth in Iowa, where grassroots support really matters. For her, she needs to stay around until Feb 5th, where she can make her move (maybe carrying momentum from NH, the only of the first four I see her winning). For the record, I can't see her winning.

For Obama, he needs to start talking policy and stop talking about his background. I think one of the reasons that he hasnt rocketed to the front of the polls is that no one is quite sure what he stands for on issues besides Iraq. (I still wasnt sure even after reading the Audacity of Hope). If he can put together a convincing agenda and communicate it effectively, then I think he could handily win the nomination. The problem is, he hasn't yet and reviews that I've heard from his speech in Gaston on energy policy were lukewarm. Strategy-wise, I think he's going to need to finish ahead of Hilary in Iowa or he's in real trouble because failure to do so could easily mean 4th place, which could seriously hinder his campaign. He can get by with a relatively close third place finish, as long as he wins New Hampshire outright, which I think he can in the end.

In the end, I see this coming down to Edwards's "first four" momentum vs the star power of Obama in a Feb 5th showdown in which Edwards prevails. John Kerry is proof of how big momentum can be.

Rach C said...

While you offer an interesting analysis, Adam, I think you overlook a few points. One, whoever wins Iowa will have unstoppable momentum. Your analysis rests primarily on the premise of "last man standing," viewing Iowa more as a race to knock people out than the victory that it really will be. If Edwards wins Iowa, he will surely win or come in second place in Nevada (with Richardson and Hillary rounding out the top three, with Richardson's regional appeal and Hillary's unbeatable financial resources). If the 2004 cycle was any indicator-- Chris ably points out how quickly the Granite State followed their Hawkeye comrades in rubber-stamping a nominee-- whoever wins Iowa can expect a substantial boost in New Hampshire.

Like the others, I have a bias here, but I think you are unfair in dismissing the possibility that Edwards wins Iowa. He has a strong infrastructure, supporters left from 2004, and he's made more visits to the state than anybody else, not to mention he's currently polling in first place in the state against three competitors with similar name recognition.

Another factor I think you're underestimating is what an enormous advantage Hillary has with her financial resources. Let's be honest, money counts. And she's going to have a lot more of it than anybody else-- this cycle isn't just about policy and charisma, it's about organization, and money can buy that.

My predictions:
Iowa-
Edwards and Hillary in the top two, Vilsack and Obama nearly tie for third place.
Nevada-
Edwards, Hillary, and Richardson finish in the top three.
New Hampshire (assuming they don't go moving their primary)-
Hillary and Obama are in first and second (in either order). Edwards comes in a close third, but it doesn't matter, he doesn't need to win New Hampshire to hang on, since South Carolina is next. Dodd drops out after a crap showing in New Hampshire.

That leaves us going into South Carolina, which is anyone's guess at this point. My guess is that Biden and Vilsack drop out at this point, leaving the Holy Troika of Clinton, Obama, and Edwards left standing. Since we're now moving into multiple primaries a week, Clinton will have a strong advantage with her money unless something shocking happens. Of course, it's all too early to tell.

I honestly think that a convention fight is entirely possible. I hate the frontloading of the process.