- Three Democrats and four-to-six Republicans will still be in the race on the morning of February 5th. The conventional wisdom is that the first contest (Iowa or New Hampshire alternating for the honor) whittles down the field to no more than three, while the other contest further narrows it down to no more than two candidates per party. This year's races are so wide open, and the primary/caucus calendar so compressed, that more candidates will be hanging in until the large batch of primaries on February 5th.
Where would I get such a crazy idea? Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and John McCain will do well enough in Iowa and New Hampsire (combined) that they'll stay in the race. Huckabee is staying until at least South Carolina's primary, since those voters are closest among early primaries to his core supporteres. Rudy Giuliani is ignoring the early contests (save Florida), so he'll stay in the race until Super Tuesday. So that's at least four Republicans until February 5th. And Ron "Jackpot" Paul is buried in cash trying to figure out where to spend it -- since Romney has been buying up all the available TV ad time in Iowa and New Hampshire; Paul makes a possible fifth Republican. And Fred Thompson is a question mark; who knows how long it will take the actor to read his lines in the tea leaves -- he is a possible, albeit unlikely, sixth Republican going into February.
Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will both continue through February 5th; John Edwards will join them if he can get two decent finishes in Iowa and South Carolina.
- Romney edges out Huckabee in Iowa; McCain edges out Romney in New Hampshire; Clinton edges out Obama in Iowa; Clinton/Obama toss-up in New Hampshire. You think that Allston-Brighton residents don't vote? Compare Iowa caucus-goers: they'll be lucky to get much more than 10% percent of the 2 million eligible registered voters. When turn-out is that low, organization counts. Highly-organized, on-the-ground efforts by Romney and Clinton favor them regardless of contrary polling results -- because polls are poor trackers of actual caucus-goers.
New Hampshire is different: polls give a reasonable indicator of the vote. But polls typically try to predict likely primary voters based on voting history, while the electorate is fired up about Obama -- just witness his consistently large crowds any time he speaks. Many newer voters are poised to come to the polls for Obama. New Hampshire voters like independently-minded politicians, which is why McCain really will pull out the comeback.
- Democrats will have clear nominee before their convention; Republicans will not. The Democratic race will turn into two candidates after February 5th, but one will likely take a significant lead in the races after the early March contests; the second-place candidate, either Obama or Clinton, will step out of the race in early March. If the primary contests are dead even or lean Clinton, then she gets the nomination due to overwhelming support of the super-delegates; if Obama has a strong lead in primary delegates (3:2 or better) by the Ides of March, then Clinton calls it quits.
Republicans, however, will have three candidates (McCain, Romney, Giuliani) -- possibly four (with Huckabee) -- splitting up the vote through early February and quite possibly through early March. That means no clear victor. The Republican convention will be entertaining, with no one winning the nomination on the first vote. Think of all the horse-trading and wagering on who will make it into the second round of balloting. If Huckabee gets lots of primary delegates (possible, but unlikely), then the convention will be an absolute mess because all the super-delegates will be allied against him -- they just won't know who to rally around.
- Massachusetts makes major mistake moving primary up to February 5th. Yes, Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin was worried that we'd be left out of the primary races if we voted in March. See above, however, where neither race is decided before the early March primaries. Whoever is voting in those early March states, when the primary calendar is less-crowded, will get lots of attention nationally; as it is, Massachusetts will get lost among 23 states on February 5th on a day that produces no single winner for either party's nomination. On February 6th we'll all decide that Secretary Galvin should have kept his hands off of the Massachusetts primary date.
- November general election. There ain't no way I can predict the outcome of the November election given how uncertain the races are today. But this thing is certain: if the Republican party nominates Mike Huckabee (some call it Huckacide), they'll lose in November. The editorial cartoonists, however, will win. And we'll have two months of crazy Huckabee quotations about international affairs this Fall preceding his party's fall.
As is usual, laugh without mercy as these naive predictions are proven wrong. Historically, my predictions for local races have been close or a bit off the mark.