Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Iowa Caucus Predictions: Hot Washup

Well, there you have it: My caucus predictions were off in key respects.

I got the top three (Santorum, Romney, Paul) right, but not in the right order, or within 3 percentage points of each candidate's actual performance. It looks at the moment like I just about pegged Gingrich and Perry, and gave Bachmann and Huntsman more than their due (I did get everything below the top three in the right order as well).

Tonight's big winner, of course, is Rick Santorum. Last time I looked, he was five votes ahead of Mitt Romney. Even if that changes, and even if he ends up technically placing second, he radically outperformed the expectations, as of a month ago, of all but his most devoted supporters.

Ron Paul's a winner in an important sense too. He held the lead at one point, he carried 17 of Iowa's 99 counties (the same number of counties as Mitt Romney), he finished in the top tier, he outperformed his 2008 run, and he did it all in a record high turnout caucus in good weather (both of those factors tend to diminish the "my supporters are dedicated activists" advantage). His campaign and his supporters will be nearly as energized by this outcome as they would have been by a win, and he may be able to manage it again, or even move up a notch to second place, in New Hampshire.

The huge loser -- even if he makes good that five-vote difference and technically beats Santorum -- is Mitt Romney. He's been campaigning in Iowa for six years, he's been the presumptive national front-runner thus far ... and yet he wasn't able to improve on his 2008 Iowa performance as a percentage of the vote. He is a limping gazelle, and there are lions waiting to take him down for good in South Carolina.

The 25-delegate question, of course, is which lion will gorge on him. I've got some thoughts on that (okay, okay, it's Gingrich) but they'll wait for another post.

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