Primary Scenarios

The Iowa caucuses are only a little over a week away, the New Hampshire primaries just under two weeks as the seemingly interminable 2008 primary election campaign lurches to an end. Will the February 5 20 state primaries with a whopping 2,075 delegates at stake make it all over but the shouting? Let’s consider a few scenarios.

The likely scenario—Democrats

Here’s what I think the the likely scenario is. Under this scenario Hillary Clinton’s support in Iowa is being seriously underestimated (the evidence for that is beginning to mount). She wins Iowa decisively and follows up with an even more decisive victory in New Hampshire. Both Edwards and Obama look even less electable following the two early losses and that propels Sen. Clinton into her party’s nomination on February 5. What has all the hub-bub been about?

The likely scenario—Republicans

Huckabee wins Iowa. New Hampshire Republicans, concerned about a Huckabee candidacy, consolidate around Romney who wins the New Hampshire primary. Regular Republicans follow suit in subsequent primaries and Romney becomes the Republican candidate.

Who wins in a Clinton-Romney match-up? Hard to pick but I think Hillary Clinton due to Romney’s difficulties with the social conservative part of the Republican base.

Democrats: the Edwards scenario

Due to superior support among union members and other experienced caucus voters, Edwards’s support in Iowa is being seriously underestimated. Edwards wins Iowa. Clinton, her aura of invincibility weakened, squeaks out a narrow victory in New Hampshire which further weakens the idea of the inevitability of her candidacy. Edwards’s victory in Iowa legitimizes him as an electable candidate, Democratic primary voters who really prefer his populist message to either Clinton’s wonk message or Obama’s “message of hope”, move towards Edwards as both electable and appealing. Edwards wins big on Super Tuesday.

Democrats: the Obama scenario

Obama wins Iowa, weakening Clinton’s aura of invincibility. Democrats begin to move towards Obama. Clinton narrowly wins New Hampshire. The absence of Michigan’s and Florida’s delegates, both of which tend to favor either Clinton or Edwards, strengthens Obama’s hand. Obama wins South Carolina and pulls out a narrow victory on February 5.

Republicans: the McCain scenario

Huckabee wins Iowa. This shakes support for Romney who’s spent so much time and money there. Republicans move to McCain as their best hope for retaining the White House and McCain wins in New Hampshire (there’s some evidence that this is happening). Huckabee, McCain, and a weakened Romney continue to contend through February 5, Republicans swallow their anger at McCain and McCain ekes out a narrow victory on February 5.

Republicans: the Huckabee scenario

Huckabee wins Iowa. Romney edges out a narrow victory in New Hampshire and Republicans who oppose a Huckabee candidacy split their votes between Romney and McCain in subsequent primaries. The heavy front-loading of the primaries strengthens the position of the 40% of Republicans who are social conservatives, giving Huckabee the edge he needs to eke out a narrow victory.

Who wins in the general election? Beats me. I think that McCain is strongest against all Democrats and Huckabee weakest. My gut feeling is that Romney probably can’t defeat either Clinton or Obama. He may not be able to defeat Edwards either although I think it might be close since they have some of the same weaknesses.

Alternative scenarios welcome although be warned that I think that suggesting that any candidate who’s polling at or below 6% can win either the primaries or the general election is delusional.

10 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw Link

    I agree generally with the Democratic scenario, though I think Clinton will likely not win in Iowa (the other candidates will trade votes to avoid this happening). The Clinton people will point out (rightly IMHO) that Iowa is not their demographic constituency and her husband lost there too.

    The most likely alternative scenario is that Edwards does much poorer than anticipated in Iowa and Obama gains his voters and wins New Hampshire and South Carolina. And then the Clinton campaign self-destructs, I guess.

  • Interesting set of scenarios — I have to second PD Shaw that Iowa will be really interesting on the second ballot for the Democrats as I strongly anticipate a whole lot of vote swapping. Otherwise your scenarios make a whole lot of sense… one part I am a bit unsure is your analysis of Romney in the general election

    My gut feeling is that Romney probably can’t defeat either Clinton or Obama. He may not be able to defeat Edwards either although I think it might be close since they have some of the same weaknesses.

    I agree that he has a tough match-up against Clinton/Obama, but I think Edwards also beats him too just on demographics (southern, populist v northern elite), if anything Edwards has an easier match-up as their weaknesses (somewhat slippery) cancel each other, respective attack ads from ‘non-coordinating’ 527s being equal.

  • PD Shaw Link

    On the Republican side, I think Huckabee wins Iowa, Romney wins NH and Michigan, Guiliani wins Nevada, Huckabee wins SC and Guiliani wins Florida. At this point, aproximately one month from now, its still a close race. I think this scenario generally favors Guiliani, his name recognition and the upcoming primaries in California and New York make it more likely he can win a longer, national campaign than Romney or Huckabee, but I also think McCain and Thompson could reemerge in a longer campaign.

    Ultimately, Guiliani has something that he shares with Clinton — very high favorability ratings within their party. Despite misgivings and idealogical concerns, they are both heroes.

  • The second ballot situation is one of the reasons that I think that Edwards is probably stronger in Iowa than he’s being given credit for.

    Bottom line on my view of Romney is that he’s pretty likely to lose against any first-tier Democratic candidate. That’s why I’ve characterized his chances as depending on how strong the Republican death wish is.

  • My own scenario was for an Edwards win in Iowa, followed by a Clinton win in NH. From there it’s Clinton for the win.

    My GOP scenario is Huck take Iowa but by less than he’s polling. Romney claims moral victory, then takes NH. Romney for the win.

    Paul goes 3rd party and does to Romney what Nader did to Gore.

    President Clinton. Again.

    But I could write a half dozen different scenarios.

  • There’s a Bloomberg third party scenario, too, although I don’t believe that Bloomberg will bother unless he absolutely, positively decides he can and will win. The man didn’t become a multi-billionaire on the basis of being a sucker.

    I have no ability to gauge the actual vote-getting ability of Ron Paul. My personal view is that the man is a loon but he does appear to have his little coterie of followers. If that can translate into even a couple of percent of the electorate, that could present difficulties for any Republican (although I’ve heard claims that his presence would also swing votes away from a Democratic candidate, too).

  • Dave:
    Paul’s got money — 15 million — and a rabid fan base. He may have the integrity to walk away from that. I don’t know. As close as this race is likely to be, even two or three points could tip a state or two.

    I suspect Bloomberg stays home. I don’t know why, just a feeling.

  • PD Shaw Link

    One has to be even a bigger fool to try to predict third-party runs, but I think Paul stays put. He’s where he is now because (a) he has the appearance of viability in running in an established party and (b) he speaks for a Republican constituency that is without a voice. If he ditches the party, he will lose the election, media attention and the support of at least a portion of that group. I can see him trying his hand again in four years to see if his position has improved, and then opting for a third-party run.

    AFAIK Bloomberg’s mixture of boring and competence over ideology is only supported by the type of folk that think a third-party candidacies are unrealistic.

  • Larry Link

    After the Iowa vote, and a Democratic winner is picked from the pack, the vast majority of the country will jump on board and a sweeping political house cleaning will take place. The 2008 elections will become one of the strongest
    protest by Americans against a political ideology that has lied, cheated and corrupted our trust in American Democracy. Americans will break out of the mental blue state, red state mind set and join together and reclaim our government for the people by the people.

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