Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Caucus Countdown

Well, folks, next week we get to find out how accurate the polling has been. And, of course, I can't resist the temptation to predict (especially after finally getting it right last year for once).

My initial prediction for the Iowa caucus back in early November didn't account for the "Huckabee surge" of the last month -- I had Mitt Romney picked for a solid 1st-place finish, followed by Rudy Ghouliani and Ron Paul. I also left out Fred Thompson, who continues, for reasons unknown to me, to attract some support.

New prediction: Romney (~30%) still wins the state, with Huckabee (~25%) falling back a little. Fred Thompson and Ron Paul will scrap for third, and I'm predicting that Paul (~15%) will win the scrap with Thompson (~12%) taking fourth. Ghouliani (~10%) in fifth, McCain (~5%), with a few holdouts casting votes for also-rans/drops Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo et al.

Poll-watchers: Yes, I know you think I'm nuts to call Paul in third, but his supporters are going to make the effort to get out and vote for him. There's more support for Romney, Huckabee and Thompson than for Paul, but it's "softer" support and Thursday is "ER" night.

Paul cultists [1]: Yes, I know you think I'm nuts and that Paul is going to carry Iowa with 90% of the vote. Put down the crack pipe. I won't be surprised if he does better than I predict. I will be surprised -- and not as unpleasantly so as you probably think -- if he carries the state. As a matter of fact, I'll probably have to go to the real ER to get my ticker started again.

Of course, the Republican caucus in Iowa is set up to allow for fuckery -- hand-written ballots to be counted by local party bosses, with non-binding results and actual national convention delegates chosen later at a state convention. If Paul comes in at less than 10%, I'll be right in there with the folks claiming a stolen caucus. I just won't believe that Paul was actually at 90% before his votes got disappeared.

The Democratic Party's caucus is more open -- people stand in groups and identify themselves as supporters of the candidates they prefer. Then they do-si-doh and allemande and all that stuff until everyone is where he or she has finally chosen to be, and the delegates are distributed among the candidates who meet a "viability" threshold of between 15% and 25%.

Prediction: A three-way wash between Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards. They'll split the bulk of the vote, and five points will cover the spread between them. My guess is that Clinton will just barely edge out the other two -- she's more popular and more organized than Edwards and more organized than Obama. The real question is whether Edwards's organization or Obama's popularity will carry 2nd place, and if I had to bet, it would be on Edwards. Call it Hillary ~29%, Edwards ~27%, Obama ~25%.

I've left 19% of the vote open to account for Christopher Dodd, Joe Biden, Bill Richardson, Dennis Kucinich and Mike Gravel. What's going to happen there? I won't be surprised if Dodd makes that 15% "viability" threshold and gets some souvenir delegates, bringing the top three each down a point or two. I will be surprised if Richardson or Biden break 5%. And I guess we'll find out how many diehard Kucinich and Gravel supporters there are in Iowa: What those guys lack in money and organization, they make up for in having devoted supporters who will brave the weather to stand up for their man. Neither of them will break out, of course, but it's conceivable that either or both might do as well as Biden or Richardson.

[1] -- Not Paul supporters, Paul cultists. There is a difference. If you think Paul might get first, second or third place in Iowa, that doesn't make you a cultist. If you're absolutely sure that he'll carry a majority of the GOP vote in Iowa, then you probably are one.

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