Now that retired business executive Herman Cain has effectively ended his presidential quest, how will the campaign now unfold?
A new Iowa poll (Selzer & Company; Nov. 27-30; 401 likely Republican Caucus participants) stakes former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to a relatively substantial lead as we come within four weeks of the Hawkeye State Republican Caucuses. At these meetings attenders will cast the first live votes of the 2012 presidential contest.
According to the latest polling data, Gingrich places first with support from 25 percent of those polled. Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX-14) is second with 18 percent, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney follows with 16 percent. No other candidate registers in double-digits.
Without Cain in the race, the national campaign will likely evolve into a two-way race, but it’s a threesome in Iowa. A Gingrich win there on Jan. 3 will begin a two-way campaign between Romney and him. Romney still leads in New Hampshire polling and is expected to win the Granite State. No non-incumbent Republican presidential candidate has ever placed first in both the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, and so chances are good that will play out again.
If Gingrich and Romney both have a win under their belts, then the two would go into South Carolina, arguably Romney’s weakest state, tied 101. But a big win there could catapult Gingrich to a victory in Florida, where he is already enjoying landslide leads in polling, and the culmination of these results might make the former Speaker unstoppable.
Should Romney pull what would now have to be considered an upset win in Iowa, he could be in position to wrap up the nomination early; that’s unlikely, but possible. With plenty of resources to turn out his vote, a lower participation rate three days into the bitterly cold new year could allow him to steal a win. Gingrich, because he has less in the way of money and organization, could be polling better than he will actually perform on Caucus night, thus opening the door even wider for Romney.
Capturing both Iowa and New Hampshire would give Mr. Romney strength going south, something he badly needs. Though he would have difficulty winning in South Carolina on Jan. 21 under any circumstance, a good showing coupled with his two earlier victories could make him the favorite in Florida.
Winning three out of the first four nominating events and then moving to the Nevada Caucuses on Feb. 4 (the first western delegate selection event and a Romney place of strength) would make the former Massachusetts governor extremely difficult to stop. At that point, it is likely Gingrich and the others would not have the resources to complete with Romney, whose fundraising would undoubtedly be even more robust than it is today. Should events unfold in this manner, it would be Romney who would then be moving unencumbered toward the nomination.
But, what if Ron Paul wins Iowa? This, too, is possible since he has polled well there for the past several months and has an army of loyal supporters who have proven repeatedly that they will turn out for him. Chances are, however, that a Ron Paul win would be a one-state occurrence. He would likely finish back in the pack in New Hampshire, effectively neutralizing any Iowa win. A Paul victory might then turn the race into a free-for-all, making it a wide-open affair and possibly allow some of the candidates who are not currently polling well to come to the forefront.
The Iowa Caucuses are carrying greater importance than they have in the past because they will almost assuredly set the tone for the balance of the race.
Should Gingrich take Iowa, as he apparently would if the election were today, he sets himself on a path to the nomination with a better-than-expected finish in New Hampshire, followed by wins in South Carolina and Florida.
Back-to-back victories for Romney in Iowa and New Hampshire could, conversely, launch him toward an early clinching.
Finally, a Ron Paul Iowa win would set the stage for a long-term, wide open race that might involve all 50 states before any contender has enough delegate strength to claim the nomination.
It all begins a month from now. Iowa becomes the trendsetter.