It’s always interesting to speculate who will be next to fill their card in GOP candidate drop-out bingo. We’ve got two upcoming events in the next 35 days: Iowa’s caucuses, which nearly always pick losers, and the New Hampshire primary, which is the first time actual voters go to the polls. These events are a slim 8 days apart, and the candidates are burning rubber and jet fuel covering the two states.
But which ones are camping out where, and is it really helping them? And how will that determine who is next to go?
Let’s look at Iowa. The Des Moines Register does a great job tracking candidate visits since, basically forever. The clear leader in time spent in the Hawkeye state is Rick Santorum, who practically moved there, with 213 events over 75 days. Next is Mike Huckabee, trailing by 58 events. Fiorina, Cruz, and Paul are clustered between 90 and 100 events, with Carson and Rubio in the next tier in the 60-70 range. Christie, Bush and Trump didn’t spend as much time wooing Iowans. Kasich barely made it over the border.
Notably, Trump had only 34 events over 25 days, but they were huge rallies.
For all their efforts, only Cruz, Trump and Rubio have any traction at all. Cruz, mostly through his ground game and grass roots, has broken through the margin of error (not counting the truly contrived Public Policy Polling numbers) and established a solid 8 to 9 point lead. It’s terrible to think Cruz will actually win Iowa and have that help his chance at the nomination: the last non-incumbent winner who took Iowa was George W. Bush in 2000.
But one interesting fact is that Iowa is actually a good predictor of who might win the nomination in the next contested election. Bush 41 won it in 1980 and became the nominee in 1988. Bob Dole won in 1988 and became the nominee in 1996. And Huckabee won in 2008, setting himself up for 2012, but didn’t run. Erick predicted (for different reasons) that Huckabee would have been the 2012 nominee had he run. Winning Iowa is important to Cruz, who has several more runs at the White House left in him. For Trump, it’s all or nothing. Either way, the only candidates who might exit the race after Iowa are ones who don’t matter at this point.
Prediction: After Iowa, Huckabee will exit gracefully. Santorum should join him, but probably won’t. Paul should also go, but he’ll stay in.
Now, New Hampshire is much more interesting. Chris Christie moved north to the Granite State, crisscrossing an amazing 139 stops over 36 visits, according to NECN’s candidate tracker. Only Lindsey Graham spent more time up north, for all the good it did him. It actually did Christie some good—he’s running a solid 4th place, even 3rd, and within striking distance of second behind Trump. All of that has come in the last month, as Carson’s support evaporated and New Hampshirites went looking for another Force-sensitive Republican.
By all rights, Cruz should be crushing all others like Trump is, as a consummate outsider, but two things prevent this. First, he’s a Texan, and to people within shouting distance of Canada, where French is the second language instead of Spanish, nothing good ever comes out of Texas. The only way George W. Bush ever won the state is by having no opposition. His father won by dint of the fact that he lived in Maine. The last time a Texan won New Hampshire was when Lyndon Johnson won in 1968—as a write-in because he wasn’t even running!
Second, Cruz is an evangelical Christian. There are Christians up there; I know many of them personally. But if garlic worn around the neck could repel evangelicals like it’s supposed to repel vampires, the old yankees would wear 20 heads in a necklace when they get near Cruz. It’s something to do with the “frozen chosen” moniker. Northerners, and curmudgeonly old crusts in N.H. especially, prefer their religion confined to Sunday—and the increasing presence of free-thinking libertarians plus tree-hugging liberals in the state only further marginalizes the role of the religious right. Huckabee barely touched New Hampshire (5 visits).
For the last two contested elections, New Hampshire has been an accurate predictor of the GOP nominee, but any any southerner who does well at all bodes well for their chances.
The fact that Cruz is doing well at all is a bellwether for his overall electability; if he can take second or even third place in N.H., he should head into South Carolina happy. Trump is simply going to do well—it’s possible he may win by more than the polls suggest (he’s up by 13 in the RCP average). If Rubio doesn’t finish in the top three, he’s going to be hard-pressed to come back in the south, where Cruz and Trump are expected to steamroll (although Trump is always in danger of some unforeseen cataclysm). Christie’s got to finish in the top four to have a chance.
Kasich thinks in his own mind that he’s going to win New Hampshire (having made 28 visits and 119 stops in the state, you’d think he’d break 10 percent, but most polls have him at 8), but I predict he’ll do poorly, along with Carson, Paul (whose father would own the state), and Fiorina. Carly has spent nearly as much time as Christie patrolling up north, but peaked in October—timing really matters.
Prediction: New Hampshire should trim the race down nicely. Paul should quit, having raised enough cash to bribe the Kentucky GOP into having a caucus to keep his Senate seat warm. If Kasich doesn’t finish in the top five, he’s gone. Fiorina will likely also bow out unless she magically recovers.
The big question will be Bush: Will he or won’t he quit after getting thrashed? My bet is he’ll stay in to take down Rubio in South Carolina (given his ad buys). Carson will stick with it, if his campaign hasn’t completely imploded.
By Valentine’s Day, this race will finally shape up, with Trump, Cruz, Rubio, and Christie headed into the stretch toward March and the “SEC primary.”