After months of campaigning, and, in some cases, years of preparation by the candidates, the time is almost here to begin the process of choosing the Republican nominee – and, for that matter, the Democratic nominee. Some candidates have been officially running for more than a year, going back to even before the 2006 Elections. Now, we are just 100 hours away from the start of the Iowa Caucus.
Hard to believe? With the Christmas and New Years holidays, Americans will be coming home from vacation just in time to start drowning in endless political discussion on television and almost all other media (believe me, what we have seen so far has only been a fraction of the coverage we will see once the primaries starts).
You would expect that, after more than a year on the trail, one or two candidates would start to pull away from the others, emerging as a clear leader(s) in their party. In a sense, this is the case. The Democratic race is still expected to be a contest between Obama and Clinton, while on the Republican side, Romney, McCain, and Huckabee have become the only candidates to have a real shot at the nomination. But far from seeing breakouts on either side, both races are now much closer that they were at almost any time previously. This is more clear on the Republican side, which cannot be described as anything less than one long roller coaster ride. In March of this year, the first place candidate in the Rasmussen weekly poll (Rudy Giuliani) held a double-digit lead over his nearest competitor (John McCain). Now, with only four days left until voting begins, the margin between the first and fifth-place candidates can be counted on one hand. If that were not enough to tell you how close this race is, consider the fact that roughly one out of every seven voters has yet to decide who they like best. In the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire (among others), the situation is no different. In both states, the leading candidate has seen his lead shrink and, in the case of Iowa, disappear completely – twice. Thanks to a surge of endorsements, John McCain managed to creep up on Romney, though he still trails by a considerable margin. In Iowa, Mike Huckabee managed to erase a double-digit lead by Romney almost overnight, replacing it with a large lead of his own – which has also vanished. Exactly who leads in Iowa right now is largely a mystery.
I really don’t know who will win the Iowa Caucus – in either party, or how it will play, who it will hurt, or where the race would go from there. The best anyone can do at this point is read the latest polls and try to figure out exactly what the situation on the ground is, and even that is extremely tricky. One thing, however, is guaranteed, in the next 100 or so hours, we will at least have a starting point, because by that time, the winners of the first in the nation contest will be known, as will the placing of the other candidates, and the margins. Hopefully that data will give us a better idea of where things stand, but then again, it could just make the waters even darker.
Stay tuned, this is going to get very interesting.