What if the current polls in Iowa are the final result? What if Romney wins in Iowa and then comes in first again in New Hampshire? What if Giuliani stumbles badly in Iowa and finishes fourth? What if Huckabee surges and finishes second in Iowa? What if Fred Thompson makes an unimp ressive third-place finish there?
And, on the Democratic side, what if Hillary only narrowly beats Obama in the first caucus state?
With two months to go before the Iowa caucus, everything can change, and probably will, but it is worth speculating on what the impact will be if things don’t change much from now until then.
On the Republican side, a Romney victory in Iowa would virtually guarantee a win in New Hampshire. The two states, in media terms, are practically one. Two-thirds of New Hampshire lives in the southern part of the state that watches Boston television every night. Since Romney served as governor in Massachusetts, he will probably win New Hampshire anyway. A win in Iowa would make it a fait accompli.
Two victories would make Romney the front-runner for the Republican nomination. Coupled with a Giuliani stumble in Iowa, it could totally change the dynamic of the Republican primary. Here’s what might happen:
Rudy could come to be seen as too antagonistic to the Christian right, and moderates might once again turn to McCain as the less inflammatory option, sidetracking the former New York mayor.
Huckabee, coming in a strong second, could take off and become the poor man’s Romney, taking advantage of his greater consistency on social issues, his Christian (read: non-Mormon) beliefs, and his support of the Fair Tax as an alternative to the IRS.
Republicans would likely panic about the idea of a Mormon candidate and worry about his prospects, making Huckabee and either Rudy or McCain viable as alternatives.
Thompson will be forced out, having lost his position as the socially conservative answer to Rudy.
And on the Democratic side, Edwards, who had been leading in Iowa until recently, would probably have to leave the race. That would coalesce the entire ABH vote (Anybody But Hillary) around Obama, giving him a leg up in the national race.
Hillary’s vulnerability, newly revealed in the Io wa vote, could create a sense that she might not be electable given her baggage and lead Democratic voters to look seriously at Obama. The result could be a real slugfest between the two candidates, making a mockery of the idea that her nomination is inevitable.