I'm seriously surprised that Bernie Sanders is getting into the Democratic nomination fight. So forgive me that these first few thoughts on the changed situation are semi-random.
The first serious test will come with Thursday's announcement: How Sanders handles the tricky question of party. I was convinced that this emotional barrier would be more than Sanders would be able to handle.
Indeed, he will lose some support simply by announcing a Democratic run, since the formal independence of the Democratic Party has been a trademark of his career and is part of the appeal for many.
But it's a necessity, and every syllable will matter. Sanders had said that he would need to be convinced he can win in order to run, and he may well be. But I've always believed that if you buy into a nomination process, you buy into the outcome.
Democrats are still scarred by the outcome of 2000 and the still-contentious role of Ralph Nader. It's a fine line to walk: arguing for a more left direction, yet simultaneously assuring Democrats you won't break away when it's over.
As for the nomination, if he can finish first anywhere in the nation, it's in a college town like Iowa City. The relatively late February 1 caucus date helps Sanders because unlike 2008 and 2012's insanely early January 3 dates, students will be in town.
He's polling in single digits now but Sanders will likely inherit much of Elizabeth Warren's presumptive support once she makes her inevitable Hillary Clinton endorsement.
Maybe sooner. The second biggest loser today is the Draft Warren crowd. Rather than banging their heads recruiting a reluctant candidate, they are likely to flock to the one who's willing.
Notice I said second biggest loser. The biggest loser with the Sanders announcement is not Hillary Clinton getting attacked from the left. She'll respond, rhetorically and maybe even substantively.
No, the biggest loser with the Sanders announcement is Rand Paul.
I still think Paul has a shot at a 20% Iowa win, only because he still has a fairly solid Liberty Republican vote, while the evangelical vote and the establishment vote is splintered.
But Paul just lost a small but key part of his vote.
I'm biased by my Johnson County address. But we've had a pretty viable left-libertarian coalition here in Iowa City the past three years or so. Criminal justice issues have been the focus, but privacy issues also played a role, and there was some overlap with the anti-war left.
Had the Democratic nomination remained relatively uncontested, caucus goers seeking non-interventionism and privacy would have been more likely to swallow Paul's Randian economic views. We saw some of that in 2012 when some of the old left in the People's Republic of Johnson County decided Ron Paul would be a stronger statement than a vote for no one (i.e. Uncommitted Democrat).
This cycle, the old left will have the real thing to support, rather than a Republican alternative with some significant downsides. So that hurts Paul...
...and may have some downside for Sanders, too.
Sanders is by nature confrontational with his politics. He is likely to attract confrontationalists to his camp. And in a cycle where the state's leading group of confrontationalists already looks ready to spend more energy
(Here in the PRJC, some of the early Sanders backers have high personal negatives as well.)
It's a logical fallacy: if the crazies are for Sanders, Sanders must by crazy. But since when was politics logical? Any candidate, of course, has that risk. But Sanders has more of that risk, because he's more likely to draw the most passionate and committed supporters - people who are ideologically committed committed not only on issues but on tactics.
Without re-igniting a years long flame war (which I admit I have repeatedly fanned), I'll just say that the issue of managing supporters and keeping them on message will be much, much harder for Sanders than for a more conventional candidate.
In any case, things just got a whole lot more interesting.