Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Split Decision

48 hours or so before the 2008 caucuses, a Hillary Clinton staffer was already rolling out the spin of defeat -- off the record, of course. The idea was they wanted us to focus on percentages rather than on rank order of finish. "It's a three way tie for first" was the line.

We didn't buy it then, and of course two nights later Barack Obama's first place was far enough ahead of John Edwards and third-place Clinton that it wasn't a plausible spin. But don't be surprised if you hear it trotted out in the next few days by someone.

We Iowans have seen big fields of caucus candidates before this year's 6.01 candidate GOP field. But the difference was, someone or some ones were always the butt monkey of the field, down in the asterisk zone: Orrin Hatch or Richard Lugar or Chris Dodd. Sometimes good things happen to these people - ask Joe Biden. Other times, we don't hear from them again (Pete Du Pont?!?)

But this field doesn't have one of those. For ages it looked like Rick Santorum would be in that category, but he finally seems to be getting his moment.

(Tangent: I got my second mass email today from the famIly leader, with BVP in the from: line, since his personal endorsement of Santorum. But neither of these messages say the candidate's name--because they're the GROUP's list, not BOB's list.)

So right now we have six candidates who, in various surveys, poll between the upper single digits and the low 20s. The victory bar is unbelievably low. The closest analogy year I can see is 1996, when six candidates (Dole Buchanan Forbes Lamar! Gramm Keyes) had significant support, and three others (Lugar Dornan and comic relief candidate Morrie Taylor) split the asterisk vote.

Dole "won" that race with 26 percent, but a candidate might not even have to do that well to finish first. Consider for a moment the 2010 GOP primary for Illinois governor (winner gets a ticket to the state pen):
Bill Brady 20.26%
Kirk Dillard 20.24%
Andy McKenna 19.29%
Jim Ryan 17.04%
Adam Andrzejewski 14.47%
Dan Proft 7.73%
Robert Schillerstrom 0.97%
Plug Huntsman into that Schillerstrom slot. But the point is we have three guys within one percent, and the top FIVE (!) all within six percent.

It doesn't even take that much imagination to see that if the votes split just right -- and they sure seem splintered -- someone could take this thing with 19 point something, and the candidate in third place less than a point away calls it "a three way tie."

That said, I do see a couple other scenarios that break someone into the upper 20s for a "landslide."

1) Maybe it's just my perspective in The People's Republic of Johnson County, but I think the peace vote crossover for Ron Paul is gonna be huge. Is the rest of the state seeing that?

2) As a 2004 Deaniac I remember this well: people getting scared at the last minute and going for the "safe" choice, Kerry. ("They can't attack him; he's a war hero!") I can see a similar, late move to Romney, accompanied by a heavy sigh and a "awww, I guess we have to settle for him, then." And a longing look at the Also (Not) Rans, just like so many Dems were looking to Hillary back in `04.

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