who will win the Iowa Caucus. The next state is New Hampshire, which recently confirmed it will hold its primary on January 10, 2012.
There are far fewer candidates who are competitive in New Hampshire than in Iowa. Back in July, when we first considered who will win the New Hampshire primary, there were more options. But Chris Christie declined to run and Tim Pawlenty dropped out. Either of those men, had they won Iowa, would have then become very competitive (or favored) to win New Hampshire. Jon Huntsman, while still probably enjoying a good reputation in New Hampshire, has completely failed to get out of Mitt Romney's shadow. At the same time, Romney has proven to be a more formidable candidate than he first appeared. The only scenario remaining is that Romney holds his lead and wins New Hampshire.
The latest New Hampshire polls reinforce the impression:
New Hampshire Primary
10/25 Rasmussen -- Romney 41, Cain 17, Paul 11, Gingrich 8
10/25 CNN/Time -- Romney 40, Cain 13, Paul 12, Huntsman 6
10/16 Insider Adv -- Romney 39, Cain 24, Paul 11, Huntsman 5
10/13 Magellan (R) -- Romney 41, Cain 20, Paul 10, Huntsman 6
With remarkable consistency, all of the pollsters have Romney at about 40%. In a race with so many participants, a candidate polling at 40% is guaranteed victory. These aren't the first good polls for Romney, either: Every single New Hampshire poll taken this year has shown Romney in the lead. After 22 polls, Romney has to be feeling pretty comfortable. His margin over second place has also been consistently large: Romney has been in the mid-30s to upper 40s in each poll, and no other candidate has reached 30%. Herman Cain has barely broken into the 20s (later falling into the 10s), and that is as high any other candidate has gotten.
If Romney wins Iowa, he will sweep to victory. What if someone else wins Iowa? The only other candidates who could win Iowa have issues with poor perceived electability. The Iowa winner will get a bump in New Hampshire, but Romney will get a bump from people concerned about nominating a winner. For example, if Cain won Iowa, the anti-Romney vote would coalesce around Cain. But the anti-Cain vote would coalesce around Romney.
Thus, Romney has a bit of a failsafe: If someone else wins Iowa, the "strategic panic" voters feel would give Romney a bump to counteract the bump that the Iowa winner gets. Romney is therefore guaranteed to win New Hampshire, and the only question is his margin of victory. Romney will be under pressure to have a pretty big win. He will still be putting resources into New Hampshire to make sure the margin is convincing, but he will be increasingly tempted to go for a win in Iowa and settle the matter early.