If Fred does not make a strong showing in Iowa, a prediction: He will drop out and endorse John McCain, who has a shot at repeating his 2000 win in New Hampshire. For McCain has the endorsement of the Manchester Union-Leader and Boston Globe, and Rudy is pulling out of the Granite State, ceding the moderates to McCain, hoping he will stop Romney there and keep his own fading hopes alive.
If Mitt Romney wins New Hemisphere, drop the curtain for Rudy, Thompson and McCain -- and they know it. For if Mitt wins in New Hampshire, none of the three beats him in Michigan, they will not beat him in South Carolina, and they will not beat him in Florida.
Can McCain, who kicked away what seemed a near-certain nomination by embracing the Bush-Kennedy amnesty and stiffing the Iowa Straw Poll, win? Not impossible. If he can win New Hampshire and make himself the national alternative to Huckabee, a desperate GOP establishment might rally to him for lack of an alternative.
But McCain's fate is not entirely in his own hands. He needs an assist. He needs Huckabee to defeat Romney in Iowa, where McCain will be waxed, then to come back and beat Romney himself in New Hampshire. Two losses by Romney in states where he has invested millions would put his campaign on life support.
But if Romney wins Iowa, he will win New Hampshire and Michigan, and go into South Carolina 3-0. If Romney wins the first two, he is almost surely the nominee. For that would eliminate Rudy, McCain and Thompson, leaving the only man able to stop him in South Carolina a twice-defeated Mike Huckabee and his Christian prayer warriors.
So, two weeks out from Iowa, here are the odds.
Rudy and Thompson each 20-1. John McCain 6-1. He has to win New Hampshire, and even if he wins there, he would be an underdog. Grass-roots conservatives do not like him and would prefer Huckabee.
Mitt Romney 3-2. If he wins Iowa, he is almost unstoppable. If he loses Iowa, he has to come back and beat McCain in New Hampshire. Then it would a Mitt-Mike race through Feb. 5.
And Huckabee? He has to win Iowa. But if he does, he will be the favorite in South Carolina and for the nomination, as well.
Looks like a Mitt-Mike race, with Iowa and New Hampshire giving us by Jan. 9 the two candidates from whom the nominee will be chosen. And isn't that how it usually is? Iowa and New Hampshire choose for America.