John, I’m not as sure as you are about the insignificance of Iowa. Four years ago, John Kerry was dead everywhere, staked everything on Iowa, won by a few points and was swept to the nomination. Every nominating contest is different, of course, but the experience of past primary seasons is that there is no substitute for winning–success tends to build on success.
So I think it’s a mistake for some Rudy fans to posit a nominating contest that will stay in neutral for three weeks or so, until Rudy can (theoretically) win somewhere. But I agree with you that there’s no reason that Rudy can’t over-perform in New Hampshire and South Carolina. My theory is that he probably has to have substantial appeal to conservatives to win the nomination and if he does, he’ll do OK in Iowa and do well in New Hampshire and South Carolina and not have to put the wait-till-Florida-and/or-Feb. 5 theory to the test.