He’s a braver man than me, that Dave Asche. He plays out the remaining months of both parties’ presidential primaries and predicts the outcomes. He likes Rubio: I’m not impressed. I think it’s going to be either Cruz (more likely) or Trump (less likely). But hey, this is Dave’s column. Here you go.
Happy 2016, everybody.
It’s hard to believe we are just a few weeks away from the Feb. 1 Iowa Caucuses and the Feb. 9 New Hampshire Primary. This primary race feels like it has been going on for a few years already, but soon enough, voting will actually happen and we will get a clearer picture of who will emerge from what has easily become the most interesting primary season in recent history. Especially on the GOP side.
In light of this, here is a summary of where things stand at the moment and where I feel the race will be headed once Iowa and New Hampshire cast ballots next month. Keep in mind, these predictions are subject (likely?) to change.
Where we are: It looked for a while during the summer and early fall like Hillary Clinton might very well lose the primary to either Bernie Sanders, or a late entering establishment candidate like Joe Biden. A months long drip, drip of news about the private email server she used as Secretary of State, her subsequent awful response to it, and Clinton’s poll numbers slipping, even among Democrats, had many either Feeling the Bern more than ever or looking for someone like Biden to swoop in and save the party from its deeply flawed frontrunner. People were beginning to wonder if this was 2008 all over again.
Then the first debate happened. Then the 11 hour long Benghazi hearing happened a week later. Clinton delivered near flawless performances in both and simultaneously managed to slow Bernie’s momentum and ease the worry of many Democrats about her candidacy. Well, that and the fact there is no Barack Obama caliber candidate to beat her this time.
Where it’s headed: It took a little while but conventional wisdom is now reality. Hillary Clinton, barring an indictment, will be the Democratic Party nominee.
She has a double digit lead, on average, in Iowa. Although Bernie could make things interesting there considering the passion of his supporters and the nuances of a caucus. And yes, Bernie is the frontrunner in New Hampshire and could pull off a much needed win there on Feb. 9.
Unfortunately for Bernie, that is where it stops for him. Despite his efforts, he is trailing Clinton badly among Hispanics and African Americans. The slew of primaries after Feb. 9 have electorates that are far more diverse than ultra-white Iowa and New Hampshire. Nevada (Feb. 20) is a heavily Hispanic state. South Carolina (Feb. 27) and the SEC Primary States on Super Tuesday (March 1) feature Democratic voters who are overwhelmingly African American.
Even if Clinton loses both Iowa and New Hampshire, though that is unlikely, she will more than make up for the losses in these string of primaries considering her support and popularity among both minority blocs of voters. It’s hard to see where Bernie picks up significant wins after New Hampshire. All of the press coverage of the race will be about Clinton being the presumptive nominee and how she will fare in the general and it will suck up all the oxygen on the Democratic side.
Sanders won’t go away quietly. He has passionate support across the country and his fundraising is better than anybody would have thought possible before this race began. But my guess is he’ll realize it is over and will likely drop out shortly after the Florida Primary on March 15.
Where we are: Where to begin? Jeb Bush was supposed to be the front runner. Donald Trump was to supposed to be a short term sideshow. Scott Walker was supposed to be a top tier candidate, and Rand Paul was supposed to do better than his father ever had. So much for that. What a circus this race has become.
The top three candidates in most polls throughout this race so far have been 1) a bombastic, bigoted, reality show star; 2) a Cuban American who can’t close the border and block refugees fast enough; 3) and a half asleep, blank slate who thinks going from young troublemaker to brain surgeon after finding Jesus, and writing a book about it, qualifies him to be President of the United States.
Donald Trump remains the frontrunner in this race. However, Ted Cruz is emerging as the anti-establishment alternative. Ben Carson was leading in Iowa for a bit until his lack of knowledge on anything relating to foreign policy sunk his campaign. Jeb Bush raised and spent more money than anybody and yet has seen his numbers drop. And Chris Christie has some serious momentum in New Hampshire thanks to his intense focus on the state and some very strong debate performances.
Where it’s headed: Call me crazy, but I am not convinced Trump finishes in the top two in Iowa. Ted Cruz has already passed him and will almost certainly win there. And Marco Rubio has seen a slow but steady rise up to third place despite not doing much campaigning or advertising in the state at all.
Polls right now suggest Rubio passing Trump is a long shot, but it has happened before. Through most of the 2004 Democratic primary campaign, Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt were in first and second place in Iowa. John Kerry and John Edwards had middling polls numbers throughout that time, and even dropped into the single digits. But things changed as primary day got closer.
What was supposed to be a Dean/Gephardt finish, turned into Kerry winning (37.6%), Edwards finishing in a strong second (31.8%), and prior frontrunners Dean and Gephardt finishing in a distant third and fourth, respectively. Marco Rubio is now starting to actually campaign in the state and four weeks gives him plenty of time to make up ground on Trump. A second place finish in Iowa would instantaneously make him the frontrunner in New Hampshire.
New Hampshire is where the field may, finally, start to winnow down a bit. At least the GOP establishment hopes so. Right now there are four establishment candidates dividing up the vote. Marco Rubio, Jeb! Bush, Chris Christie, and John Kasich. Whoever wins among those four, will likely become the de facto establishment candidate, even if Trump winds up winning the primary. Right now it looks like Rubio or Christie are favored to win, with Bush and Kasich hoping for some good luck.
However, that comes with a caveat. If one of the four has a convincing margin over the others, say four or five points minimum between the winner and second place, it may force the other three to drop out and coalesce around the winner of the Establishment Primary. If the four all finish within a point or two of each other, each one of them can justify staying in the race; which would continue to split votes and allow Cruz or Trump to win states and accumulate delegates. And right now, most polls show Rubio, Bush, Christie, and Kasich within a few points of each other in New Hampshire.
After New Hampshire, things look very promising for Ted Cruz. South Carolina is tailor made for him to win, and the SEC Primary states on March 1 are favored to go his way as well. A South Carolina win and a good night on Super Tuesday would make him the clear frontrunner, but certainly not a lock to win the nomination.
So what is going to happen? I say Cruz will win Iowa and Rubio will finish in second ahead of Trump. Rubio builds on his stronger than expected performance in Iowa and wins New Hampshire, with Chris Christie and Trump finishing behind him.
I think at the end of the day, Bush and Kasich finish far enough behind Rubio and Christie and both drop out shortly thereafter. After dropping out, Bush will probably throw his support behind his former mentee in Florida. Kasich likely does not endorse anybody. He is far more useful in the general election as a VP candidate given his popularity in a state the GOP has to win if they have any hopes at winning the White House.
Cruz will likely go on to win South Carolina and the majority of the southern states on Super Tuesday which will set up the head to head between he and Rubio. After that, the map sets up nicely for Rubio with Florida on March 15 and some blue states with more moderate GOP primary voters who won’t see Cruz as a credible candidate.
I think it will be Rubio who emerges as the nominee, though Ted Cruz can easily pick him off since he is more popular than Rubio among the conservative base. He also has a lot of money which allows him to stay in as long as he wants. But even in a primary that has allowed Trump and Cruz to rise to frontrunner status, I believe GOP voters will go with the guy most likely to beat Hillary in the general election. And that guy is Marco Rubio.