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Iowa Caucus Day: Will there be a winnowing — or not?

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By Michelle Malkin  •  January 3, 2012 06:04 AM

Phew. Are you ready? There are an estimated 614,000 active registered Republicans in Iowa. A small fraction of them will turn out tonight to vote in the first-in-the-nation GOP presidential caucus. The anticipated top three placers are a toss-up. Sunday’s PPP poll had it 20/19/18 for Paul, Romney and Santorum. Election Projection’s Scott Elliott posts his predictions:

Rick Santorum – 24%
Mitt Romney – 23%
Ron Paul – 22%
Rick Perry – 15%
Newt Gingrich – 9%
Michele Bachmann – 6%
Jon Huntsman – 1%

Traditionally, the Iowa caucus winnows down crowded fields.

But — egad — will any of the back-benchers actually drop out after tonight?

Jon Huntsman’s anemic vanity campaign has the support of Vogue Magazine, his wife and children, his deep-pocketed father, and very, very few others. But he’s not budging yet. He skipped Iowa to concentrate on New Hampshire, which holds its primary on Jan. 10. This means he’ll get to bloviate again about the need for moooooderation and civility during two more debates this coming Saturday and Sunday in Manchester. Despite his failure to organize a competent effort to get on the ballot in Virginia, he is publicly deluding himself (but certainly not New Hampshire voters) that he can “steam” ahead to South Carolina, Florida, and beyond.

Michele Bachmann is promising a “miracle” in Iowa tonight, but her numbers look dismal and the glow of her long-ago Ames straw poll win is a distant memory buried by a series of unfortunate campaign staff debacles/defections. Whatever the outcome, she said Monday she has no intention of dropping out and will fly straight to South Carolina.

Rick Perry, who followed Bachmann’s sizzle-and-fizzle footsteps in Iowa, will also follow her to South Carolina in hopes of a defibrillator-like campaign recharge. Perry says Santorum can’t beat Obama. But this comes from a guy whose “epic failure” in Virginia exposed utter incompetence — and whose first instinct was to sue the state (along with fellow Virginia ballot botcher Newt Gingrich) instead of accepting the consequences.

As for Newt Gingrich, he’s blaming Romney, a staffer that he hired, money, and, yes, his own reasonableness for his burst bubble. Newt’s been way past his expiration date for years. He’ll cling bitterly to this presidential campaign vehicle until the next p.r. ride comes along.

And then there’s this:

Well, I think that’s possible, although we have these two debates next weekend in New Hampshire. Candidates might hold on for those. Those have been great opportunities for people to make a stand and take advantage of somebody else’s mistakes.

So it’s possible that we’ll see the candidates go on for just a little while longer. The fact is, we might see these candidates go for quite a bit longer given the changes in Republican rules this time. We haven’t really focused on this. But, you know, we’ve become accustomed to Republican races that get settled pretty quick by those Super Tuesday contests.

Mathematically, they have pushed all those — pushed some big contests back. They’re requiring proportional representation in the contests that come before April 1. And that could have the effect of pushing this contest into April and May, maybe even into those final primaries into June.

A refresher on those rule changes:

Rule change #1: Except for Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, no state can hold a binding primary or caucus before March 6, 2012. Any state that does, loses half its delegates to the national convention.

Consequence: Florida (Jan. 31), Arizona (Feb. 28), and Michigan (Feb. 28) all decided to hold their primaries before March 6 this cycle, and all three lose half of their delegates to the national convention. Florida’s delegation – usually the third largest delegation behind California and Texas – gets knocked down from 99 to 50 delegates; Arizona goes from 58 delegates down to 29; and Michigan’s delegation gets reduced from 59 to 30. Five other states hold caucuses or primaries before March 6, but they are not penalized because none of the contests is binding.

Rule change #2: Even the four traditionally early states – Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada – are not allowed to hold a binding primary or caucus before Feb. 1. If they do, they lose half their delegates.

Consequence: After Florida jumped to January, Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina decided to hold their contests in January (before the Feb. 1 cutoff). Iowa’s caucuses are not binding (i.e. the Iowa delegates can vote for whichever candidate they want at the convention, regardless of the caucus results), so Iowa does not violate the rule. But New Hampshire’s and South Carolina’s primaries are binding: New Hampshire goes from 23 down to 12 delegates, and South Carolina goes from 50 down to 25 delegates. Nevada decided to hold its caucuses in February, so they are not penalized.

Rule change #3: Any state that goes before April 1 must allot its delegates on a proportional basis. It cannot be done in a winner-take-all format. Any state with a winner-take-all contest before April 1 loses half its delegation.

Consequence: In previous years, dozens of winner-take-all primaries took place early in the calendar, so the presumptive nominee was often clear after Super Tuesday or shortly thereafter. This cycle, most of the states holding primaries earlier than April changed their system so that delegates are split up proportionally instead of all being given to the candidate with the most votes. This could lengthen the nomination process because even if a candidate “wins” a particular state, that candidate may not strike a decisive blow in garnering delegates.

In any case, we’ll update you as things get underway tonight. The process kicks off at 8pm Eastern.

You can catch up on Iowa Caucus primers galore and more here:

Des Moines Register
CBS News
Real Clear Politics
By the numbers
Iowa’s Sound and Fury – Michael Walsh, NYPost
Stacy McCain on Santorum’s surge

Many members of the punditocracy on the left and right are lamenting the Iowa caucus process and deriding Iowa voters.

I’d have no problem with a rotating first-in-the-nation slot and other systematic tweaks. But there’s a distinct air of sore-loser-dom in some of the complaints. Undecided voters in Iowa are simply reflecting the wider discontent among grass-roots conservatives and Tea Party activists with the current Pageant of the Imperfects. I told you these would come in handy, didn’t I?


Photoshop: Reader Jimmy D.

On the other side of the aisle, this USA Today headline is snort-worthy:

Obama readying for re-election bid.”

When has the perpetual campaigner-in-chief ever not been in re-election bid mode?

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