The latest polling in Iowa suggests that Ron Paul is well-positioned to make some noise in the caucuses that are occurring next week. More importantly, the peculiarities of the process in Iowa, it seems likely that Paul will even outperform his improving poll numbers.
In Iowa, voters meet in 1,784 different locations across the state. They actually debate, in these small groups, why those in attendance should vote for their guy. The main advantage that Ron Paul possesses is a devoted following of Atlas Shrugged-wielding libertarians, as demonstrated by his frequently-successful "moneybomb" fundraisers and his legion of supporters on social media sites like Reddit. The ferocity of his support is extremely useful in any contest that is usually low-turnout, such as the caucuses in Iowa. More importantly, many Paul supporters have lived and breathed his ideas and philosophies since his 2008 campaign and are able to . In a setting where debate is allowed immediately prior to caucus-goers casting their votes, Paul-ites will disproportionately swing undecided and weakly-affiliated voters to their guy.
So I'm predicting a Ron Paul victory in Iowa. It will throw the Republican race WIDE open.
Looking at the primary calendar, a Ron Paul win in Iowa would be followed by New Hampshire, where a Mitt Romney victory is almost guaranteed. Next up are primaries in the South, in South Carolina and Florida, where Newt, from neighboring Georgia, has big leads. Then they move out west to Nevada, where Romney will likely win. After that comes Colorado and Arizona, where Newt's polled well. Then a likely Romney win in Michigan, where his father was a popular governor, takes us to Super Tuesday, where anything can happen as 11 states vote.
The only way the Republican race ends quickly is if Mitt Romney runs the table. Based on how the map looks now, it is unlikely that he will do so, ruining his inevitability/electability argument, which is his strongest pull with Republican voters. A Ron Paul win, coupled with early Gingrich wins in states he holds advantages, ensures a long contest.
Which would be great for the President. The longer the primaries go, the longer Obama's eventual opponent will have to cater to the Republican Party base. Unlike the 2008 Democratic contest, where Obama and Hillary Clinton got loads of free press taking not-over-the-top-liberal positions, the Republicans will be forced to take hard-right positions for months. Obama will have millions upon millions of dollars to run a general campaign from the beginning, claiming the center while Republicans fight with each other for the base.