It’s entirely possible, perhaps even likely, that one or two of the Republican presidential candidates will drop out of the race after this week’s Iowa vote. For the likes of Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann, Iowa is arguably the last chance to salvage some kind of dignity. But at the front of the field, where Mitt Romney waits to see if he can hold off a late surge by Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, there are unlikely to be any clear pointers for a few months.
Nevertheless, Iowa is a must-win for Romney. If he fails here, he will be in serious trouble because there will be a perception that he just can’t get his campaign together. Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich – who seems to have been lagging in the polls of late – needs a strong result if he’s to prove that he’s got what it takes. Then there’s Ron Paul, who has been written off by many observers but who is capable of pulling off a shock win. And there’s Rick Santorum, the latest (somewhat laughable) attempt by the media to offer a ‘surge’ candidate.
If Mitt Romney wins in Iowa, he will take a strong (but not decisive) stride towards his party’s nomination. If he loses, there will be chaos and excitement in equal measure. The big question ahead of Iowa is whether Republicans are willing to overlook any misgivings they have about Romney and get behind him in the hope that he can defeat Obama. Or will they go with their hearts and vote for Gingrich? Or will Ron Paul do what he’s been promising to do, and take victory? All of these eventualities are entirely possible.
Looking at the figures, here are my predictions: Romney will probably just about take victory, with either Ron Paul or Newt Gingrich coming uncomfortably close to defeating him. Ron Paul could even take a shock victory. Rick Santorum will probably come fourth, with Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann scrapping at the back of the field. Will Bachmann then have the energy to push ahead? She might well step away and look for another role for herself.
You might have noticed that this article hasn’t really mentioned Rick Perry. That’s because the Texas governor has faded into irrelevance faster than anyone could have predicted. It only remains to be seen whether his failed bid for the nomination will have a negative impact on his political fortunes in Texas, and whether he can pick up the pieces ahead of the next election cycle.