I love making predictions like this, it is just fun. Let me start by saying, I agree with the conventional wisdom that Romney, Santorum and Paul will finish 1, 2, and 3 in some order. I really won’t be surprised by any order for those three, I think there are just too many variables. Some of those variables include the total number of caucus goers, how many cross over voters will there be, and will Bachmann, Perry and to a degree Gingrich voter get behind Santorum to block Paul and Romney.
My predictions are based on the idea that the weather is good, turnout will be high and much of that will be due to crossover voters. Each of the candidates will receive votes from cross over caucus goers, but in total it helps Paul the most. Over the last two weeks, I’ve heard interviews from both Santorum and Bachmann bragging about all the Democrats who voted Obama who are planning to caucus for them; everyone is reaching out to disenfranchised Democrats (of which there are many to reach out to), so no one should cry foul after tonight if the cross over vote is high.
I also think that nobody likes voting for a loser. That logic has always annoyed me. In 2008 I often heard, “I like Paul and would vote for him, but he just can’t win, so I’m voting for X candidate who is higher in the polls”. As much as I dislike that logic, I think it will be a factor tonight as Perry, Gingrich and Bachmann supporters decide to support one of the leading 3 candidates. So they will probably do worse than their recent poll numbers predict. I think this helps Santorum more than anyone else.
So at last, my prediction:
I agree with Shane there will be three clear tickets out of Iowa: Paul, Santorum and Romney. Bachmann will drop out tonight or tomorrow morning. Perry and Gingrich will stay around for about 2-3 weeks, until after South Carolina. Huntsman will be out after New Hampshire.
If the Iowa winner does not become the eventual nominee many will continue to say that Iowa doesn’t pick winners. But what Iowa does and does well is vet the candidates and narrow the field. We will have vetted and eliminated Pawlenty, Cain, and likely Bachmann and will have dealt a near campaign ending blow to Perry and Gingrich. We may not pick the winner, but we will have determined the top three who move on.