by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
Now that Thanksgiving is over, the presidential primary races will accelerate to an even faster pace – as if they weren’t already moving at light speed. By the night of Jan. 15, the Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire primary and Michigan primary will all be over and done. The winners of these early contests will only gain a small number about 200 of the 3,500 elected seats at their parties’ respective conventions but will win much more in terms of name recognition and fundraising ability.
Of course, that doesn’t guarantee that the winners in these early races would be the best candidates for their parties, but the fact is that we Americans love the horse race aspect of political campaigns and will cheer on the early winner, even if he or she ends up looking like an old nag come November.
However, I think we’ll see some surprises in the Democratic and Republican primaries in the next six weeks. And as an aspiring political prognosticator, I figure I need to put my predictions in writing now if I am going to be able to say “I told you so” in the spring.
Despite the best efforts of their campaigns to spin the latest poll numbers to their advantage, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are in a dead heat for the lead in the Democratic camp, which means they have stopped attacking the Bush administration and have turned to attacking each other.
Each is trying to find a way to land a knockout blow before the Iowa caucuses, which I doubt can be done. These attacks are only going to intensify in the next month. And when Iowa voters get into the caucuses, I don’t think there will be any love left between the Obama supporters and Clinton supporters. They will no longer consider the “other side” to be part of the same team.
This is one of the reasons why I am picking John Edwards to win the Iowa caucuses. When Iowa Democrats start looking for a candidate they can agree on, I think they will decide Edwards is the only serious candidate who would make an acceptable compromise for Clinton and Obama supporters. To pull this off, Edwards needs to stay on a positive message while continuing to criticize Bush’s policies and avoid getting drawn into Clinton and Obama’s fight. Otherwise, he’ll just get shot up in the cross-fire.
I also think Edwards will win in Iowa because the contest is being held so early. Coming right after Christmas, voters will be entering the election feeling like their pocketbook is stretched, and Edwards’ campaign messages about wages, the problems of free trade and the economy will resonate well. He has been perfecting these concepts during the past year and can talk with ease about any aspect of the economy.
Edwards might be able to use a win in Iowa to win either New Hampshire or Michigan and take the nomination on Feb. 5, when 1,697 delegates will be up for grabs. Either way, I think we will know who the Democratic candidate is on Feb. 6.
The Republican race is harder to divine. Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani seem to be the clear leaders, but Giuliani, who had been ignoring Iowa while working in other states, is now making a serious effort in Iowa. And like the Democratic front-runners, Romney and Giuliani have stopped attacking the Democrats mainly Clinton and have turned to attacking each other.
Of course, the worst attack that either Republican front-runner can come up with is to compare his opponent to Clinton. It will be ironic if Clinton ends up being the most mentioned candidate of 2008 without winning the election or nomination.
I think Mike Huckabee has a real chance to take the Iowa caucuses. He is a safe candidate who has not recently changed his position on gun control, abortion, gay rights or other hot-button social issues and a candidate whom Giuliani and Romney supporters can accept. I also think he can motivate a larger group of stalwart Republicans to turn out for him.
But I don’t see Huckabee going anywhere after the Iowa caucuses. I predict that Giuliani or Romney will take the other two early contests, and there will not be a clear leader going into the Feb. 5 primaries. In fact, it could very well be that a clear leader will not emerge from the February primaries and the race for the Republican nomination will drag on well into March and April, which would be a nice change for those states with late primaries.
Only time will tell, but don’t forget that I told you so.