Managing expectations in Iowa
Matt Yglesias opines on Romney’s chances:
It seems to me, though, that this basically all comes down to what happens in Iowa. In particular, it comes down to what happens with the remaining Fred Thompson supporters once they realize that their man is in third place and slipping. At the moment, Huckabee and Romney are both trending upwards, but Huckabee is gaining on Romney because he’s trending upwards faster. If the bulk of Thompson’s remaining supporters (a not inconsiderable slice of the electorate) decide that Huckabee is the southern white Christian dude for them, then Huckabee stands a decent chance of pulling off an upset and Romney’s in big trouble. But if they decide that they need to do the pragmatic “Stop Rudy” thing and vote for Romney, then it really does seem like Mitt winds up sweeping the early primary table and Giuliani’s in big trouble.
I personally think it’s not so much about who “wins” Iowa (or NH, for that matter) but who does what in the expectations game.
Let’s imagine, for a moment, that Huckabee continues to gain on Romney in the polls, and that, by the end of December, he’s built, say, an eight point lead among Iowans likely to vote. Under such circumstances if Romney loses by only two points, he might plausibly claim he’s “won” — and that the momentum is back on his side. A similar dynamic can be seen among the Democrats. Hillary Clinton obviously doesn’t want to finish second to Obama in Iowa. But it’s far better for her to come out behind Obama there if that’s what the polls are predicting (especially if she can “beat the spread”) than to do so when the polls are predicting a first place finish. Indeed, for Hillary, there may be something of a silver lining in her recent slippage in Iowa vis a vis Obama, as it lowers expectations for her.
It’s all about expectations and momentum in the early going