The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

The Coming Spin War Over Iowa’s Results


Contrasting with the Los Angeles Times’ poll of a whopping 174 likely Republican caucusgoers, Strategic Vision talks to 600 of them yesterday and the day before. They find: Huckabee 29, Romney 27, Thompson 15, McCain 14.

That’s more or less in line with the rest of the recent polls; in fact, it more or less lines up with the RCP average.

Since the perpetual question these days is, “so who do you think is going to win Iowa?” I think results in this neighborhood seem pretty likely: A close finish between Huckabee and Romney, with somebody else, probably Thompson, behind in a fairly distant third.

Romney has more resources, but Huckabee’s probably going to get talked up the most on Sunday morning from the pulpits. They’ve both put enormous effort into building a reliable turnout machine. Neither one seems likely to be relying on a group of fair-weather supporters (no pun intended, but both meanings apply). Neither one seems likely to make the Howard Dean mistake of relying on out-of-state supporters to knock on doors and alienate caucusgoers because they don’t relate to the voters they’re trying to influence. It’s possible that one (or both!) could have some massive, race-altering gaffe in the next few days, but I wouldn’t count on one.

Without any clear knockout, I think the five days between Iowa and New Hampshire will turn into a spin war.

If Romney finishes ahead by a few points, they’ll try to persuade the press and race watchers that he’s the Comeback Kid, that he’s a strong closer, that if Huckabee couldn’t finish in first in Iowa he’s not going to finish first anywhere, that he’s knocked out his toughest competitor in not entirely friendly political terrain and now he’s set in New Hampshire, Michigan, and beyond…

If Romney finishes behind by a few points, his folks will say they’ve weathered the storm and come out okay; that he was never a perfect fit for Iowa, that the rest of the states won’t have 60 percent of their voter pool being evangelical Christians, that he’s still leading New Hampshire, and that Huckabee’s “Christian Leader”/”don’t Mormons believe” schtick won’t play as well in broader voter pools.

If Huckabee finishes ahead by a few points, his folks will contend that he’s done the impossible, that he’s demonstrated that Romney has a glass jaw, that his surging numbers everywhere else will hold, that he is now the frontrunner in a field where all of his rivals have some glaring weakness. He’ll contend that Thompson’s campaign is toast, and that he’s now the “authentic conservative” choice with a clear path to the nomination. Make any kind of splash in Iowa, keep Michigan close, win South Carolina, and ride that momentum…

If Huckabee finishes behind by a few points, they’ll spin it as David vs. Goliath. They’ll point out that Romney spent a fortune in Iowa and how much they were outgunned; they’ll say that they timed their surge near-perfectly, that he only lost the lead when he started getting flak from the conservative press and the MSM. They’ll say he’s taken punches from sources that would have destroyed any other candidate, and that he now has instant credibility as a top-tier candidate, and that Michigan and South Carolina provide opportunities to catch up with Romney.

The difference? Well, Mike Huckabee has, er, rubbed some conservative voices the wrong way. Here’s a list. And putting aside the appearance of your friendly neighborhood campaign correspondent on that list, think of the folks who will be giving a thumbs up or thumbs down on the persuasiveness of the spin: Rush, Hannity, Malkin, Laura Ingraham, Fred Barnes, Drudge, and a big chunk of the Corner.

Tags: Barack Obama , Bill Richardson , Chris Dodd , Fred Thompson , Hillary Clinton , Horserace , Joe Biden , John Edwards , John McCain , Mike Huckabee , Mitt Romney , Newt Gingrich , Rudy Giuliani , Sarah Palin , Something Lighter , Tommy Thompson


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