January 28, 2016
We’re only a couple/few hours away from debate time, depending on whether you count the undercard as an event. These contests aren’t always the game-changers they’re promoted as, but it seems like a good time to see where the candidates are now, so we can look back on Caucus day and see if anybody parlayed a debate performance into a strong finishing kick.
Marco Rubio: The three most recent Iowa polls have him at 16, 14 and 18 percent. He’s balanced expectations enough that finishing third with 16% is going to seem like a victory. This is his first major Hawkeye State push. Prior to this week, Rubio was only in the state a couple days at a time here and there.
The governors have conceded the caucus, limiting competition for establishment-friendly votes. Cruz and Trump wailing on each other may push a few more voters his way. His odds of winning, whether you ask me or FiveThirtyEight are 10% at most, but a strong third is plenty. Anything more is gravy over chicken-fried steak.
John Kasich: No less than 7 candidates have moved clearly into double-digits in New Hampshire at some point since The Donald took the lead. Kasich sits there now, either slightly ahead of Cruz and Rubio or in a pack with them.
Depending on which primary Independent voters choose (a third of them aren’t even sure of that yet, never mind their candidate choice), he could have a good chance at a respectable second. Not sure how he turns that into competing on March 1, but Jeb and Christie would trade places right now.
Rand Paul: If he winds up sticking around longer than you thought, you heard it here first. Best case, he’s at 5% in Iowa polls. He’s betting on a bunch of college students who aren’t usually included in surveys. How many will show up? No clue.
Expectations are important. If Rand pulls 10% it’s a mini-earthquake and reason for him to stick around for a bit. He’s back on the main stage without The Donald. Don’t be surprised if he makes a mark. His policies are notably different from his competitors. He’s not going to let Cruz get away with pretending he’s a more viable version of the same thing.
Most importantly, even if it’s way too late to seriously contend for the nomination, Paul has his pitch down perfectly. I just got done watching his rally at Drake University. If this version had shown up in July, we’d be talking about him as a contender now.
Rubio, Cruz and 2008 Barack Obama were freshman senators who were ready to run for president. Each had run several times before. Rand only had his 2010 run. He was bad at first because he was new to this. Not anymore. If he can squeak out a few more weeks, it will help him for 2020 or 2024.
His agenda doesn’t fit GOP orthodoxy, but in the Year of Trump, that’s not a disqualifier. Anyway, I’m not predicting immediate greatness, but he’s more than an asterisk.
Ben Carson: The implosion is done. His odds of winning Iowa are finished. But he’s not slipping any further. Depending on which polls you believe, he’ll pull between 6 and 11 percent on caucus day.
While he many not have any real reason to continue after Iowa, finishing somewhere between third and fifth in the caucus as a first-time political candidate in a race that once included 17 candidates is damn ok.
Jeb Bush: Zombie. Still virtually no chance of winning the nomination. Had a micro-surge in New Hampshire about 6 weeks ago, moving from low single-digits to 10% or so. Topped out and hasn’t moved forward since. On track to finish fifth in the Granite State.
Too inept to challenge for the prize. Too much money and pride to abandon the race.
Huckabee/Fiorina/Santorum: If. If only. If only (fill in the blank).
Ted Cruz: Peaked too soon. It’s not his fault. When he hit the gas in November, it was reasonable to think if he didn’t hurry, he’d miss out on the top 2 or 3 finish he needed in Iowa. Carson faded even quicker than he would have figured.
The Trump battle is a distraction, and hasn’t helped, but if Cruz falls short of a win, winding up a strong second, or a very strong third, either of which would have sounded fine 60 days ago, there’s more to it.
It’s not that Trump took his voters, it’s that in focusing on The Donald, he left certain supporters open for Carson to take back, Paul to take, or Marco to poach. There’s still almost 100 hours for Ted to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again, but he needs some super glue stat.
Chris Christie: Three governors left. Kasich has momentum, Bush is determined to stick around no matter what and has the money to light on fire to do so. Christie has neither. Post-Paris he re-packaged himself as an anti-terrorist guy who can keep us safe.
The fear has faded. His New Jersey record has plenty of items for attack ads. No push in Iowa to give him a shot of finishing a respectable fourth or fifth and generating a “hey, he didn’t do that badly, check this out” story. Needs a home run tonight.
Donald Trump: He’s in his own world. The rest of us are just visiting. Tonight’s debate boycott/alternate event just reminds us. Maybe this is great strategy, maybe it’s not (I’m leaning towards good idea). Maybe it helps him close the deal in Iowa, maybe it puts Cruz back in the driver’s seat.
We’ll know by midnight on Monday. If the Trumpists come out and caucus, he’s got a great chance at the nomination. If they don’t, depending on how they respectively finish, Cruz or Rubio is the new favorite. Waiting isn’t fun, but there’s no choice.
For better or worse, that’s where it looks like our candidates are positioned. Let’s see what they do now.