Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Who Will Win the Iowa Caucus in 2012?

In our previous examination of the history of the Iowa Caucus, we saw that Iowa tends to choose candidates whom they view as electable. This runs against the conventional wisdom that Iowa favors socially conservative "wildcard" candidates. But what are the possible scenarios for 2012, and who would the winner of New Hampshire (i.e. Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman) want to win Iowa?

Listed roughly in order of their probability, the following are the basic Iowa scenarios, and a discussion of whether the New Hampshire winner (we'll assume Romney) would like them to occur:

Scenario #1: United Party. A new candidate enters the race who is able to unify and excite both the Tea Party and the Republican establishment.

Chris Christie is most likely to fill this role. This is the nightmare scenario for Romney, as Christie could go on to win New Hampshire (or do well there). The Republican establishment is only likely to support a highly electable candidate. If a candidate is both electable enough to gain the establishment's support while also being conservative enough to excite the Tea Party, then Romney is toast.

Scenario #2: Moderately Electable Tea Partier. A candidate who is popular with the Tea Party is able to become credible enough to be perceived as moderately electable. He peels off enough support from strategic voters in Iowa to win.

While Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain hope to fill this role, it's more likely to be a new candidate, such as Rick Perry. While Romney certainly fears a candidate who is both exciting and somewhat electable, all is not lost: Unlike the first scenario, Romney can still make the electability argument. A moderately electable candidate is better than an unelectable candidate, but will voters want to take any risk of President Obama winning? They may prefer a highly electable candidate (Romney) to a moderately electable one, even if Romney is less conservative.

Scenario #3: Consensus Candidate. A candidate who is inoffensive to both wings of the Party wins, despite not being able to generate excitement. It's a compromise.

This is Tim Pawlenty's scenario. Romney has much to fear from this one as well, since both candidates are perceived as highly electable. In addition, Pawlenty is perceived as more conservative. This leaves Romney with few arguments. Pawlenty is not exciting, but neither is Romney.

Scenario #4: Frontrunner Wins. Romney has the campaign infrastructure built up sufficiently to compete everywhere, and no one is able to knock him down.

Romney's dream scenario, of course, is to start with a win in Iowa. From there, he would easily win New Hampshire, and win the nomination without much of a fight. He attempted this in 2008, but Mike Huckabee beat him in Iowa--causing Romney to fall short in New Hampshire as well. If Romney's opposition is split enough, this scenario could take place.

Scenario #5: Tea Party Wildcard. The Tea Party is more influential than previously supposed, and voters vote with their hearts instead of their heads. Electability goes out the window, and Iowa chooses the most conservative candidate available.

Here is where Bachmann and Cain are more likely to fit in, as it would be difficult for them to persuade voters they're electable, given their job experience. Aside from winning Iowa himself, this is the scenario Romney most hopes for. He could make a strong case that the Iowa winner can't beat Obama. Thus the Republicans must either vote for Romney or let Obama win.