It's easy to forget, but not long ago, Mitt Romney's front-runner status was anything but a foregone conclusion. Over time, though, he met -- and surpassed -- many goals, thus elevating his campaign into the top-tier. Some of this was the result of good fortune, some of it was his disciplined and organized campaign, and some of it was his ability to bank-roll his campaign.
In four days, Mitt Romney faces his first real test, the Iowa caucuses. Heretofore, he has met every challenge, and exceeded every metric. He is undefeated in pre-season, but now the real season begins...
So how will he do in Iowa? Anyone who pretends to know the answer to that is pulling your leg. But if I were a betting man, I would put my money on Mitt Romney to prevail on Thursday. Here's why: For one thing, Mike Huckabee seems to have peaked about a week too soon. And because Huckabee was not terribly well known to begin with, Romney's campaign ads were able to define Huckabee, and introduce many caucus-goers to the negative side of Mike Huckabee.
But the key to Mitt Romney in Iowa is his organization. People don't just go to caucuses. A well-run turn-out operation can increase a candidate's votes by 3-5 percent. My guess is that Romney will be able to make up a 5 point deficit in the polls because of his turnout operation.
Luck also has something to do with it, too. Forecasters are calling for it to be unseasonably warm weather (if 17 degrees is unseasonably warm). Huckabee, whose supporters are die-hard Christian activists and hunters, would benefit from bad weather, and low voter turnout.
Assuming Mitt Romney does prevail in Iowa, he will ironically owe Mike Huckabee for having made Iowa a worthwhile victory. Remember, candidates like Giuliani and McCain were hoping to render Iowa irrelevant by ignoring the state.
A close victory over a tough challenger would demonstrate Mitt Romney is a tested candidate who has overcome difficult obstacles.
To continue over-extending football metaphors, Mitt Romney is playing a series of "road games": He's playing Huckabee on his Iowa turf, McCain on his "home turf "of New Hampshire, and arguably, Rudy on his "home turf" of Florida.
Winning these road games would give him the credibility and confidence to unite the Republican Party behind him.
Again, anything could happen. It's hard to quantify Mike Huckabee's support. Some of his voters may be first-time caucus-goers. No doubt, Huckabee's supporters have intensity on their side.
Still, if you're playing the percentages, the person who has run the smartest campaign -- based on using history to guide his strategy -- is Mitt Romney.