The possibility of what happens tonight in the frozen tundra of Iowa creates an almost endless scenario of possibilities.
We will address a few of the more fascinating and likely possibilities.
Rudy "9/11" Guliani. It's getting a little tiresome to listen to this man who cannot complete more than two sentences without remaining anyone and everyone he was the Mayor of NY on 9/11.
You've heard of a "front loading strategy'? Guliani decided to do something that has rarely been done before. He back loaded his strategy. Super Tuesday is February 5, 2008 when 1,113 of 2,500 delegates in 20 states are uo for grabs. The problem is that by Super Tuesday Guiliani might be 0 for 8, or at best 1 for 8 as he competes in Florida on Tuesday January 9, 2007. If a week is an eternity in politics, a month is more than a life time, and Rudy G may well find himself irrelevant before his race even begins.
This is the battle. McCain needs to show a strong third in Iowa and New Hampshire is in play for the man written off over the summer.
Huckabee is a phenomenon who needs to avoid a Howard Dean. No matter how he finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, he just needs to keep plugging along doing what he is doing. He has a solid evangelical base that will not abandon him. If Romney implodes in Iowa/New Hampshire, the Florida race looks for solid for Huckabee in six days, and he goes into super Tuesday as the candidate of change versus McCain the candidate of the Republican establishment.
Out bet: Huckabee is out of his league and screws is up.
Mitt Romney. Forget being Morman. Is the country ready for a president named "Mitt"?
He has money. He has organization. He has worked the hardest and has put himself in position to win it all. In other words, he is where you don't want to be- out in front, with major expectations. Short of a full sweep and a video of Ronald Regan calling Romney the country's only hope, in many ways Romney and Hillary Clinton have only one place to go- down.
That leaves McCain. He's honest. He's paid the price for his honesty on immigration that put him at odds with most Republicans. He is the most experienced of the group. He has the gravitas to be President. He has been in tougher spots than this, and if he emerges with the buzz of a survivor it plays into his image. He needs to win New Hampshire; he needs the voters of South Carolina to not abandon him like they shamefully did in 2000 when he ran against Bush. A strong showing in Iowa, wins in New Hampshire and South Carolina and he is set up with money and organization to compete and win on Super Tuesday.
Here is the most fascinating scenario: Clinton finishes third in Iowa and a weak second or third in New Hampshire. Obama has not campaigned in Michigan at all, so that leaves South Carolina on January 26 before Super Tuesday on February 5. The SC race is tight. Clinton could well be in third by then. She would then be faced with this difficult choice- go after Obama hard. Flay him down to his bone and destroy him or face losing the nomination. However, Obama holds a strong segment of Democrats who would never forgive Clinton for doing that. She would in a sense be destroying her own party to secure her nomination. Is that the legacy she wants?
Edwards needs a win tonight or a strong second and a win in new Hampshire or a strong second to get him to South Carolina where if he has been competitive until then, he could win, giving him new money and momentum for super Tuesday. Edwards has more than a 100 days on the ground in Iowa, which is more than Obama, who has about 70. Edwards has a very fine organization in Iowa, and his supporters are just as evangelical about him as Obama's are about him. He has kept expectations low while working hard and building a complete organization in Iowa. He has a lot to gain tonight with a strong showing.
Obama. He has the premier organization in Iowa. Clinton's is almost as good. Almost. Obama has tried to change the parameters of the race by bringing in independents who have traditionally not shown up in big numbers. Obama has name recognition and strength to carry him into Super Tuesday no matter what his results, absent a Howard Dean melt down. The question is whether in these dangerous and troubled times the voters in the end feel he has the gravitas to be a President. Obama probably wins Iowa which gives him the street cred he needs to take him into Super Tuesday. We think in a head to head comparison he fairs better against Clinton, who has strong negatives, than against Edwards who doesn't differ a whole lot ideologically from Obama, but based in his experience, might well be more acceptable to voters.
An Edwards/Obama ticket, but not the other way, would be formidable indeed.
This is the start of a process, that by the very nature of press coverage, front runner status, and impressions, will be over in a quick month. We might be better off as a country having a more lengthy primary season- something that would last into June, and would give the entire country a chance to see and evaluate candidates. But this is what it is and for better or worse, we are about to begin a process that will select our next President.
In January 2009, we want to hear CJ John Roberts say "I John Edwards, do solemnly swear to faithfully execute the Office of President Of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States."
Whether that will actually happen, remains to be seen.