Finally, here comes some clarity.
After months of campaign maneuverings, pundit pontificating and political shenanigans, Republican voters will begin to have their say Monday evening on who their 2016 presidential standard-bearer will be as Iowans go to caucuses across the Hawkeye State to register their opinion.
When the Des Moines Register first polled the state’s Republican presidential contest way back in January 2015, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker led the potential field at 15 percent, followed by Kentucky Sen. [crscore]Rand Paul[/crscore] at 14 percent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 13 percent and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee at 10 percent.
One year later, the last Des Moines Register poll before the caucuses released Saturday showed a far different contest. Romney never entered the race and Walker dropped out of it in September. While still competing, Paul and Huckabee’s fortunes have fallen dramatically to low single digit support.
With caucus day upon us, the race is now widely believed to have come down to a contest between Donald Trump, [crscore]Ted Cruz[/crscore] and [crscore]Marco Rubio[/crscore]. In that first Des Moines register poll, Trump garnered only 1 percent support, while Cruz and Rubio attracted just 5 percent and 3 percent support, respectively. In contrast, Saturday’s poll showed Trump leading the way at 28 percent, followed by Cruz at 23 percent and Rubio at 15 percent.
But the race is still fluid. Nearly half of likely caucus-goers — 45 percent, according to the Des Moines Register poll — say they could still be persuaded to support a different candidate. Almost all the voters The Daily Caller talked to at Rubio and Cruz rallies over the last two days said they hadn’t definitively chosen a candidate, with most still deciding between some combination of Trump, Cruz and Rubio.
Who wins, places and shows in Iowa may come down to turnout and which campaign has the best on-the-ground organization, but it may also come down to what the many undecided and persuadable caucus-goers determine is the most important quality in a presidential contender as they enter their caucus Monday evening.
If electability is their foremost concern, Rubio could have a better night than polling currently suggests. If adhering to conservative orthodoxy and the Constitution dominates their thoughts, Cruz could score a major victory. And if undecided caucus-goers go into their caucus with the intention of burning down the political establishment, Trump will likely emerge victorious.
“Marco, I think, could bring in a lot of votes that maybe others couldn’t,” one voter deciding between the top three GOP contenders in Iowa explained to me at a Rubio rally in Des Moines Saturday night.
“I like Cruz because he is one of the smartest guys I have ever heard before,” he went on. “I think he’s brilliant. And he’s a constitutionalist, which I believe in that too.”
“And I like Trump because of the no-nonsense talk,” he added. “He cuts past all the bull.”
As to when he will come to his decision, he said he would “probably be there thinking about it before I write it down” at his caucus Monday night.
Whatever happens, the main story coming out of Iowa, as Cook Political Report national editor Amy Walter noted on Twitter Sunday, will be Donald Trump, no matter if he wins or not.
“There is really only 1 storyline coming out of IA on Monday night — Trump wins or Trump loses. Everything else is minor,” she wrote.
There is really only 1 storyline coming out of IA on Monday nite – Trump wins or Trump loses. Everything else is minor
— amy walter (@amyewalter) January 31, 2016
But if Rubio somehow climbs into second or even first place, that too will be an important storyline, even if it doesn’t draw as much attention as Trumpzilla. A good showing by Rubio could propel him into New Hampshire with the momentum he needs to begin to solidify the so-called establishment lane of the GOP primary that is currently crowded with the likes of him, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie and John Kasich.
A worse than expected showing by Cruz in a state where he was until very recently the overwhelming favorite would also be a significant storyline. Such an outcome could be disastrous for the prospects of the Texas senator’s campaign.
The results of the Iowa caucuses will also likely begin to help winnow the field. If previous Iowa caucus winners Huckabee and Rick Santorum don’t perform significantly better than polling currently suggests, it’s hard to imagine they will continue in the race. Poor performances by Rand Paul and Ben Carson could push those candidates to reconsider the point of hanging on in the race too much longer.
But with Iowans just hours away from participating in the first electoral contest of the presidential primary season, so much still remains unknown. Soon, however, some clarity cometh.