The Iowa caucuses were today! I may be a foreign policy wonk, but I have been pinned to my seat, and have been talking lots of speculation about the election with friends. Here's the numbers:
For the Democrats, with 97% of precincts reporting:
Everyone else: 3% total
For the Republicans, with 85% of precincts reporting:
Now, we all know that Iowa has huge influence on the rest of the primaries, but most influence comes in a candidate's ability to pull surprises or upsets.
Upsets and my speculation for the Democrats:
Obama clearly got a huge win today, and pulled a 7% lead out of a race that should have been wire-tight. Why? Polls only asked Democrats what they thought, where Obama pulled a huge percentage of Independents in Iowa. New Hampshire allows Independents to vote, as well, and I really think it's going to give him the state, rather decisively. The third state, South Carolina, has a large black population, and an (allegedly, I've only heard this by word-of-mouth) a large Oprah following (she's been campaigning hard for him).
Hillary's "war machine" depends a lot on her air of inevitability, and that has been not only seriously wounded this caucus, but might well be dead by the time Obama emerges from South Carolina with a third win. Going into Super Tuesday with that much momentum, Obama's got a very good chance of winning this nomination, and the Clinton campaign will get desperate, launch some increasingly bitter attacks against Mr. Obama, and probably collapse as its largely female following loses hope. While I don't think Iowa typically decides an election on its own, I'm going to predict Obama wins this nomination, in a huge comeback.
For the Republicans, it's largely anyone's game still. Huckabee may have won big in Iowa, but the New Hampshirites really can't stand him. Romney has spent obscene amounts of money and time in Iowa trying to get the early victory, and his campaign is surely quite frustrated at being upset by a relative newcomer--the money seems wasted. Romney has a small lead among Republicans in New Hampshire, but McCain has been crawling back, there in particular, and will draw Independents in the state more than Romney will. I say New Hampshire is up in the air, between these two.
Thompson may have made a good showing in Iowa, but has little chance anywhere else. Giuliani wasn't supposed to do well in Iowa; he concentrated his efforts in Super Tuesday states--but his popularity is waning as he seems to have more baggage than voters previously thought.
Should Romney lose in New Hampshire to McCain (and it's one hell of a tight race), he is probably done for good; his 15.4% approval nationwide is not going to go up from there, and it won't be enough to carry him. Huckabee, if nothing else, has probably finished Romney with his big upset in Iowa.
But what of Huckabee, long-term? After losing New Hampshire, not much will happen before Super Tuesday. While he leads in national polls taken at the new year, Republican talking heads like Coulter, Hannity, and Limbaugh are campaigning strongly against him. His own baggage is just starting to emerge, and moderate Republicans are probably going to lead a movement of rejecting him. My off-the-record talks with some of the right wing's most powerful pundits have revealed that the Party Elite highly disapproves of Huckabee's "Christian Socialism," and they will fight bitterly to see him finished.
McCain seems like the only guy whose life is going uphill in the Republican party, and after he wins New Hampshire, I think people will start taking him seriously again: despite the "Bomb Iran" musical fiasco. Giuliani has huge leads in some important states, like California, Florida, and New York, but when the heartland comes to vote in Super Tuesday, he's unlikely to run away with the majority.
If I had to put money on a Republican candidate today, it would be McCain--he seems to have some momentum, and his biggest rivals seem to have chewed each other into a chunky pulp. But this speculation has very low confidence, and could change with an aberration with ease.
Either way, this is exciting stuff. This is the most wide-open election since 1952, and I'll be very excited to watch it all. You should be, too.
And you should vote. Really.