My Picks For Iowa

[ Posted Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008 – 12:48 UTC ]

Tomorrow's Iowa caucuses are certainly reaping a bumper crop of blather in the news. Pundits everywhere are weighing in on every aspect of both the Democratic and Republican race to the nomination. But I've noticed something -- in all the verbiage spewed about what is or is not going to happen tomorrow, there are very few willing to actually call the results of the race. Language is hedged, scenarios are spun out as "what if" speculation, but not a whole lot of people are willing to stand up and say "this is how I think it'll turn out."

Which is a shame. If political writers (both professional and amateur) aren't willing to run the risk of being wrong (and looking foolish), then what are they in the prognostication business for anyway? After all, every two-bit local news sportscaster is willing to tell you his picks for the outcome of each week's football games, why shouldn't our national political press be just as willing to do the same?

In that spirit, consider this the inaugural column for my primary picks. Just like the guys in loud coats behind the sports desk, I will be boldly calling each primary before it happens. And I invite you to play along, as it's going to be an interesting election season.

Here are my completely arbitrary rules for how I'm going to play the game: I'll pick the top three finishers in each race, and award myself one point for each right guess, and zero points for each time I blow it. If only two challengers effectively remain on either side, then I'll just give the top two picks from that point on. I'll stop giving each party's picks when a winner is officially announced (i.e., that they have more than half the delegates to the convention sewn up). I'll keep a running tally of how I'm doing as we go along, for those playing at home to compare scores. I'll post my total score, and party-specific scores every time I write one of these.

These loose rules may need refinement as we go along, if unexpected situations come up (as this is the first time I've done this), so bear with me.

My record so far on predicting races is pretty good. Now, that's not to say I'm not going to immediately screw up, but in 2006, I wrote the same sort of "picks" article right before the election. I called every Senate race correctly and was off by four seats on my prediction of the new House makeup. But I'm resetting the clock to zero for the 2008 primary season -- 0 for 0 Democrats picked right, and 0 for 0 Republicans.


Iowa Democrats

First place -- John Edwards

Second place -- Barack Obama

Third place -- Hillary Clinton


While Democrats see a record turnout for the caucuses, it is not as large as some campaigns are expecting. Turnout will top 120,000, but will not approach some of the more fantastic estimates (150,000 to 200,000). Edwards benefits from the fact that his base in Iowa is largely composed of people who have caucused before, who actually show up tomorrow night. Obama is counting on a huge wave of young people turning out for him, which does happen -- but the wave is smaller than expected. Since minorities barely exist in this state, he does not have their support to fall back on. Clinton's expected army of single women first-time caucus-goers is also a few platoons short of her expectations.

But the real determining factors are: Edwards cleans up in the smaller outlying counties (whose votes count more, proportionally, in Iowa's strange system); and Edwards attracts an overwhelming percentage of the "second choice" votes. In Iowa's Democratic caucus, if your candidate doesn't get 15 percent support in your caucus, then you can either go home and not be counted, or you can shift your support over to one of the candidates who did meet that threshold. Many of these people don't like Hillary, and have not been willing to give Obama a chance. Many also are concerned about "electability" and see both Hillary and Obama as having too many weaknesses to overcome.

The surprise will be that Edwards wins more decisively than anyone predicts -- by at least four or five points. Obama will only edge out Hillary, and the two will be virtually tied for second.


Iowa Republicans

First place -- Mike Huckabee

Second place -- Mitt Romney

Third place -- John McCain


Huckabee shocks the Republican establishment with a strong victory over Romney, by five to ten points. Now, the Republican turnout is going to be a lot smaller than the Democratic one, but hordes of home-schoolers and churchgoers turn out statewide for Huckabee. The shock is that they're going to do so on their own, without a giant political machine helping them do so. All three of the top Democrats have these get-out-the-vote (amusingly referred to as "GOTV") juggernauts waiting for caucus night, and Romney also has a standard GOTV effort as well. Huckabee hasn't had the time or money to put together such an organization, which means he'll win against some pretty heavy odds. But Republican voters have been floundering around looking for someone they can really get behind, and Huckabee is the one they settle on in Iowa -- in a much bigger way than is predicted. McCain will be far back from Romney, but even a decent third-place showing here will help his campaign in New Hampshire (where he's currently running neck-and-neck with Romney).


We'll see how my picks measure up. I could look like a fool, and I could look like a modern-day oracle. Maybe I'm picking Edwards and Huckabee because I'm a sucker for an underdog, and just really really want to see the "inside the Beltway" people have to scramble to explain something they didn't see coming. Like I said, we'll see how these picks measure up, but at least I'm willing to make them in the first place.

Feel free to play along here in the comments. What are your picks for tomorrow night?


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


2 Comments on “My Picks For Iowa”

  1. [1] 
    fstanley wrote:

    I really would like to see Edwards win in Iowa but I have no idea what will happen. With all the bad weather and the time needed to caucus I think the turn-out will be low. What this means for the candidates is hard to guess but I am hoping that it will mean more votes for Edwards.

    Happy new year

  2. [2] 
    akadjian wrote:

    I think you might be right about Edwards. Regardless of whether you're a Hillary or Obama supporter, your second choice is likely to be Edwards. Mostly because people will feel that if you're for Hillary, you're against Obama and vice versa.

    And somehow (though I'm not quite sure how), second choice picks matter in this "nothing halfway about the Iowa way to treat you" caucus.

    But I'm going to go out on a limb and pick Obama as the winner hoping that more young people turn out than expected because of the importance of the race.

    As for the Republican side, think it's going to be the strike-crossing (on the Leno show) Huckabee. In a last-minute jab Huckabee said: "People are looking for a presidential candidate who reminds them more of the guy they work with rather than the guy that laid them off."

    - Dave

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