Finally, we’re here. After months of endless mudslinging and politicking, the first caucus has arrived. While Iowa doesn’t always elect Presidents, this point is a major stage in the primary as it will thin down the field.
Iowa will affirm the strengths of some, validate the strategies of others, and confirm the weaknesses of others.
These are my thoughts on the caucuses for both Democrats and Republicans.
DEMOCRATIC PARTY CAUCUS:
1. Bernie Sanders
2. Hillary Clinton
3. Martin O’Malley
The Democratic Party in a lot of ways is undergoing a scenario similar to what Republicans did in 2012: a major name within the party has been considered the eventual nominee out of the gate and an outside-of-the-box thinker challenges this perception.
The difference here is that unlike Ron Paul, Bernie Sanders doesn’t have to compete for the grassroots vote. Although Martin O’Malley still remains, he is virtually a non-factor at this point.
If Sanders can translate his massive crowds into caucus turnout, the result could be devastating to the Democratic establishment that is arguably in the bag for Hillary Clinton.
Iowa is big for Democrats because Sanders needs the momentum to prove his credibility, whereas Clinton needs the victory to combat the narrative that her candidacy is falling apart.
But the problem is Clinton is falling apart. The once probable nominee has seen her lead shrink over time and now Sanders is within striking distance. Political polls only do so much though in terms of predicting results.
Prediction: Iowa “feels the bern”
REPUBLICAN PARTY CAUCUS:
1. Ted Cruz
2. Rand Paul
3. Donald Trump
4. Marco Rubio
5. Ben Carson
6. Jeb Bush
7. Chris Christie
8. John Kasich
9. Rick Santorum
10. Mike Huckabee
11. Carly Fiorina
12. Jim Gilmore
Iowa is an interesting case for Republicans. The case exists that it really doesn’t matter. Rick Santorum won in 2012 and Mike Huckabee in 2008, and neither went on to be the nominee.
The key is the narrative though.
Iowa doesn’t matter to Ted Cruz or Donald Trump. Win or lose, they’ll still be on top for the long haul.
Rand Paul on the other hand needs a strong Iowa performance to combat the notion he’s done. Low poll numbers have been the story of his campaign, but things could change. He had a strong performance at the last debate and an effective ground game in Iowa could work in his favor with changing the narrative.
If Paul falls flat? Could become a tricky path going forward, but not impossible.
The game is otherwise dead for Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Carly Fiorina, and Ben Carson. Most of these candidates will be out after Iowa, after New Hampshire at the very latest.
Cruz, Paul, Trump, and Rubio will all walk out of Iowa with some degree of bragging rights.
NEXT: New Hampshire primary on February 9, 2016