Why we can't discount Iowa
In response to my post yesterday on each contender's path to the 2012 GOP nomination, I heard from a number of readers questioning whether the Iowa caucuses are all that important. Let's put it this way: Beating, or failing to beat, expectations in Iowa, and then again in New Hampshire, matters very much. The best example of this is the ill-fated campaign of Rudy Giuliani in 2008. He did poorly in both states and was out of the race long before the Florida primary that he believed was his best chance for victory.
In 2008, John McCain did well enough in Iowa to gain some momentum. After winning New Hampshire, he was on his way to the nomination. Likewise, Mitt Romney underperformed in Iowa (beaten by a late-charging Mike Huckabee), and again in his neighboring state of New Hampshire. He never recovered.
So each candidate has a different equation in Iowa. For Romney, if he competes he has to win. Not competing would garner some criticism, but that's mild compared to the risk of losing. (For all intents and purposes, he is the front-runner for 2012.) For Tim Pawlenty, a win isn't necessary. Finishing in the top few spot is good enough. Because outside of South Carolina, Iowa is Mike Huckabee's strongest state, a loss there would likely spell the end of his bid.
In short, it's not winning per se, but beating the spread in early states that matters.
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