Since there won’t be any totally unreliable exit polls to obsess over tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to have to content myself with making stuff up. These are the rough scenarios I have (without having tried to make the math work exactly) for the top candidates:
OPTIMAL ROMNEY: Romney 32, Huckabee 27, Thompson 13, McCain 12. Romney scores a big comeback win and the media can’t yet write the McCain comeback story it yearns for. Maybe it’s enough for Romney to hold off McCain in New Hampshire and sweep to the nomination.
ACCEPTABLE ROMNEY: Romney 29, Huckabee 28, McCain 15, Thompson 12. A win is a win. The press will write about the McCain surge and this scenario might not be enough for Romney to win in New Hampshire, but he can better survive a loss there and perhaps recover with a Michigan win.
OPTIMAL HUCKABEE: Huckabee 32, Romney 27, McCain 15, Thompson 12. Huckabee has an amazing and convincing underdog win, while McCain’s third all but finishes off Thompson and sets the table for a Romney defeat in New Hampshire. On to South Carolina!
ACCEPTABLE HUCKABEE: Huckabee 29, Romney 28, Thompson 15, McCain 12. He’s still pulled off a big upset. While Thompson can perhaps hang on, Huckabee will be the bigger Southern conservative dog in South Carolina. Romney is better off than he is after a starker defeat, but maybe McCain can still knock him off in New Hampshire and Michigan.
OPTIMAL McCAIN: Huckabee 32, Romney 23, McCain 17, Thompson 12. A strong third pace close to the second place finisher creates a very legitimate McCain surge/comeback story and if the second place finisher is Romney, all the better. In this scenario, a McCain win in New Hampshire is likelier than not, and McCain might win Michigan too, in which case he could sweep to the nomination.
ACCEPTABLE McCAIN: Romney 32, Huckabee 27, McCain 13, Thompson 12. Any third place will probably work for him. He opposed ethanol for heaven’s sake! And, at the end of the day, even if he doesn’t get third, he’s not going to be hurt that much.
OPTIMAL FRED: Romney 32, Huckabee 23, Fred 17. A strong third might breathe some life in his campaign, and he will benefit in South Carolina from some of the air being taken out of Huckabee.
OPTIMAL RUDY: See Optimal Huckabee and/or Optimal McCain. Rudy probably wants Romney out of the race, and hopes he can pick up traction again with Republicans not thrilled by a choice between Huckabee and McCain.