January 3, 2016
Iowa will weed out at least a couple candidates. More will drop out after New Hampshire. By March 1, if not sooner, the record-sized GOP field will look very normal. That’s then.
We haven’t seen any new polling in several days, but unless things have shifted dramatically over the holidays, Ted Cruz and Donald Trump are still well ahead of everyone else.
In the Real Clear Politics average, they combine for just over 60% of the total, with Cruz holding a 3 to 4 point lead. With the strength of Ted’s ground game and the shaky previous voting history of Trump supporters, the gap might be larger, but this is still plenty competitive.
Though Marco Rubio hasn’t threatened the lead, he does sit in third place and looks like the likely top scoring establishment-friendly candidate if he can keep from losing much further ground.
While Rubio and Cruz have spent considerable time jousting over the past few weeks, their fate in Iowa may have less to do with their continued interaction than how effective the zombies are.
Ben Carson isn’t going to win the nomination, and is a huge long-shot to recover from his polling slide and campaign instability and win Iowa. Mike Huckabee is most likely dropping out of the race on February 2.
Jeb Bush has a microscopic chance of parlaying his nascent momentum in New Hampshire into sticking around for a while, but he’s dead in the water in Iowa.
In the RCP average, the three zombies total 16.6% support. Combined, they would sit in third. One is sliding backwards, the other two are dead in the water. All three will act out of desperation.
Trump is rooting for Carson and or Huckabee to at least hold their limited ground. His average Iowa polling of 27.4% is to the high end of his range, only 0.9% below his absolute peak.
He’s trailing now because Cruz consolidated social conservatives and very strong secular conservatives, not because he slipped any himself. If Carson loses the remainder of his support and Huckabee doesn’t move forward, it likely goes to Cruz.
Trump would need tremendous turnout to make up for that. Unfortunately, unlike New Hampshire, Independents can’t participate in the caucus. GOP registration, as of December 31, was 611,433 (27k more than Democrats, 113k less than Independents).
This number is only 2,411 higher than the end of June, when Trump was brand new to the race. The Donald may benefit from Independents and disaffected Democrats in other states or a general election, but Iowans haven’t rushed to register (or re-register) to vote for him.
If Cruz can stay above 30%, he’s a very strong favorite to win. With Rubio’s attempt to peel away voters having thus far failed, the only people in a position to make this happen are Carson and Huckabee (Rick Santorum is registering even less than Huck).
Thus far, Carson has avoided negative campaigning. He’s under new management, but is apparently determined to double-down on being unconventional, as part of his conflict with the old team was their desire to treat this more like a normal campaign.
Can he hold on to the remaining 6 to 8 percent? Will Huckabee start actively contrasting himself with Cruz. His political career has less than a month remaining. Does he go out swinging, or slip quietly into the night?
There are two more pre-Iowa debates. January 14 on Fox Business from South Carolina and January 28 on Fox News from Iowa. No eligibility rules are out yet for the second contest, but estimates are the first will be split more evenly between main event and undercard.
Huckabee is a strong debater. Perhaps having Carly Fiorina in his flight instead of George Pataki will help focus more attention on it. Rand Paul is threatening to boycott if he’s downgraded, but we’ll see if he follows through.
Meanwhile, Jeb’s super PAC is trying to improve his chances in New Hampshire by running negative ads against Rubio in Iowa. The idea is to hold Marco’s numbers as low as possible to limit his momentum and give Jeb a better chance against him the following week.
Combined with sending more ground troops (Bush HQ is going out in the field this month for canvassing and GOTV) to attempt to get the limited pro-Jeb voters to caucus, they may be able to prevent Rubio from finishing well ahead of his direct competitors.
Thus far, Right to Rise (Jeb’s PAC) expenditures have proved less effective than lighting money on fire, but they might actually produce a decent ad at some point. If a broken clock is right twice a day, perhaps somewhere in $100 million in spending is a quality Rubio hit.
Chris Christie (not yet a zombie) may benefit from Jeb’s approach too. He’s starting to spend more time in Iowa with a strategy of at least finishing ahead of Bush and seeing how close he can get to Rubio.
None of this is bad for Trump. Having the various mainstream center-right candidates going after each other can only help him. While he’s faced a good amount of opposition in New Hampshire, thus far, few have tried to lay a glove on him in Iowa.
In a caucus, people vote in the open. The process takes much longer than the few minutes to vote in a primary. If the zombies are effective, they will retain a chunk of the electorate and siphon votes.
If they aren’t, supporters will go elsewhere during the caucus, or stay at home. Watch the dead candidates over the next few weeks, not just the clearly live ones.