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Giving Everyone a Reason to Believe on Iowa Caucus Night

From the Morning Jolt for Iowa Caucus Monday:

Giving Everyone a Reason to Believe on Iowa Caucus Night

Reasons to think Donald Trump will win or beat expectations:

1. Trump’s led the last nine polls in Iowa, every poll since January 18. His smallest share of the vote in any of them is 28 percent — although that’s in the Des Moines Register poll, the most recent and a highly regarded one.

2. “Governor Terry Branstad has told allies that he expects shocking levels of participation on Monday.”

3. Trump draws big crowds; people willing to come out to watch Trump speak are probably motivated enough to show up on caucus night.

4. What worries about Evangelicals? Trump’s got Jerry Falwell Jr. and Sarah Palin vouching for his Christian values. Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum showing up at his debate counterprogramming is almost a de facto endorsement as well.

Reasons to think Donald Trump will lose or disappoint:

1. Remember, just about all of the polling in 2012 missed the Santorum surge in the last days. He was polling in the high teens and ended up with almost 25 percent. (In 2008, Huckabee did five points better than expected to get a big win. It’s almost like Iowa caucus-goers enjoy surprising the nation on Caucus Night.)

2. As our Tim Alberta notes, there has been no surge of new registrations with the GOP compared to four years ago:

A report from the secretary of state’s office on Thursday confirmed that there has not been any meaningful spike in the GOP voter rolls — registration is up by nearly 3,000, but the total number is nearly identical to what it was in January 2012. (It’s worth noting that voters can still register at their caucus precincts on Monday.)

3. This decision by the Cruz campaign:

Cruz, scrambling to put down a growing threat in Iowa from Senator Marco Rubio, is shifting nearly all of his negative advertising from Donald J. Trump to Mr. Rubio for the final three days of the caucuses.

If you’re Cruz, and you have a chance to win, you hit the guy who stands in the way of that win, right? Cruz wouldn’t be comfortable with finishing second to Trump in Iowa, would he? The thinking is that if Trump wins Iowa, he’s got momentum for New Hampshire, and keeps his leads everywhere he goes. In other words, what is the Cruz campaign seeing to make them conclude their real threat is Rubio and not Trump?

4. Lingering questions about Trump’s get-out-the-vote operations:

A quarter had been contacted by Cruz. Seventeen percent had been contacted by Marco Rubio. And 13 percent — about half the level contacted by Cruz’s campaign — had been contacted by Trump. It’s about the same as the number who reported being contacted by [Ben] Carson’s team.”

5. The state that fell in love with Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum is going to give Donald Trump a win? Just how much can one state’s GOP electorate change in one cycle?

6. If Iowa GOP caucus-goers give Trump a win here, aren’t they validating his decision to skip the last debate in Iowa?

Reasons to think Ted Cruz will win or beat expectations:

1. No one’s expressing any doubts about Cruz’s “ground game” or get-out-the-vote operations:

On a re­cent even­ing just a week out from caucus night, the Cruz Iowa headquar­ters hummed with activ­ity. Dozens of vo­lun­teers sat at fold­ing tables filling a large room in a sub­urb­an of­fice park. Each table was topped with a pair of black office tele­phones. A sign on a wall stated a goal of 15,000 calls per day, and the vo­lun­teers made one call after an­oth­er, ap­pear­ing to read a script prin­ted on a piece of pa­per.

2. He’s got Congressman Steve King helping him, probably the most popular local lawmaker in the state with grassroots conservatives.

3. Normally, this is Cruz’s kind of state — turnout limited to the most driven and determined, devouring red-meat conservatism, lots of pro-life social conservatives. Then again, nothing has been “normal” about this year.

4. Cruz’s campaign isn’t just predicting victory; they’re offering precise numbers:

The Cruz campaign has done extensive modeling on the caucuses and believes the turnout will ultimately fall between 133,000 and 137,000. Republicans familiar with Cruz’s analytics program say his team has modeled caucus electorates all the way up to 175,000 out of an abundance of caution, and feels confident that its man will prevail even if turnout reaches that high. The reason: Cruz will hold a lead of roughly 7,000 votes over Trump with a GOP electorate of 125,000, his allies say. Trump would need to win a huge plurality — if not a majority — of additional votes in order to offset Cruz’s lead.

Reasons to think Ted Cruz will lose or disappoint:

1. The “Voting Violation” flyer was a dumb, self-inflicted wound that wasn’t “Iowa Nice” and gave him a bad news cycle to close out the Iowa campaign.

2. Marc Fisher, Washington Post: “Most frequent criticism Iowa voters offer when I ask why they’re not supporting Cruz: ‘He doesn’t tithe.’”

3. He’s getting flak over his ethanol stance, and Iowa’s Republican governor, Terry Branstad, wants him defeated to make an example of him.

4. Cruz led most of the polls from the beginning of December to mid-January — meaning some supporters have drifted away. Can he win somebody over a second time? Did he address and fix whatever it was that made them look elsewhere?

Reasons to think Marco Rubio will win or beat expectations:

1. See the Cruz campaign’s decision above. Why put all your resources into hitting Rubio if he’s really the distant third that the polling indicates? The Cruz camp must think that Rubio is at least a close third or maybe jumping ahead of Cruz, Trump, or both.

2. Momentum: About a week ago, Rubio was at 10.8 percent in the RealClearPolitics average in Iowa; now he’s 15.2 percent. No one else jumped that high, that fast.

3. As I put it Friday afternoon, “I don’t know if Marco Rubio has momentum in Iowa, but the talk that Marco Rubio has momentum in Iowa has picked up a lot of momentum.” Rubio only passed Ben Carson in mid-December and has been a distant third until very recently. If he’s even close to the top, he’ll dispel the talk that the GOP primary is a two-man race between Trump and Cruz, and any establishment-esque voice uncomfortable with both will have a viable third option.

Reasons to think Marco Rubio will lose or disappoint:

1. Doesn’t it feel like we’ve been hearing “Rubio is about to catch fire” all year long?

2. The best Rubio has performed in any Iowa poll in the past year is 18 percent. If he’s hoping to pull off what Santorum did four years ago . . . does he seem like a Santorum-style candidate?

A Giant X-Factor:

A blizzard is going to hit . . . but isn’t expected to hit until Tuesday morning. (Good luck flying out of Iowa that day, media and candidates!)

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