James Forsyth

The shape of the race

The shape of the race
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As America tucks into turkey sandwiches now seems as good a time as any to assess the state of the presidential race. The first contests are now only a little over a month away with the Iowa caucuses on January 3rd and then the New Hampshire primary five days later.

Iowa will determine the shape of the nominating contest for both parties. On the Democratic side, if Hillary wins Iowa then she’ll cruise to the nomination: the combination of momentum and a national poll lead will make her unstoppable. If she fails to win, she’ll be in a real contest—albeit one in which she’s still the favourite—as the sense of inevitability around her candidacy will have been punctured. At the moment, Iowa is essentially a three way tie but with Obama slightly favoured as he’s likely to pick up more second preferences.

The question about Obama is whether he can string together a series of good performance. To date, one strong one has invariably been followed by a weak one. If that remains the case, Hillary’s discipline and the fact that she makes fewer mistakes on the trail than any other politician in living memory should be enough to see her through comfortably enough.

For the Republicans, Iowa will determine if it a two candidate race or not. If Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who would be the first Mormon president if he won, can hold onto his narrow lead the race will become a straight contest between him and the national frontrunner, Rudy Giuliani. If he doesn’t win, having spent phenomenal amounts of time and money in the state, then the race becomes wide open and John McCain comes right back into contention.

The challenge to Romney in Iowa comes from Mike Huckabee, a former governor of Arkansas who first came to national attention for losing a ton of weight after been told by his doctor that his fat was killing him. He’s a folksy Baptist preacher with a ready wit who is pioneering a cheerful Christian conservatism. The worry for Romney is that with minimal money Huckabee is already within a couple of points of the lead, having tripled his support since the summer. Huckabee backers are also more certain they they’ll vote for their candidate than Romney supporters suggesting that an upset could well be on the cards.

Just how important Iowa is going to be, is demonstrated by the fact that the campaigns are expecting to work, and maybe even campaign, on Christmas day. By Januarty 4th, we won’t know for certain who the nominees will be but we will know what kind of contest we’re in for.

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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