Posted by Curt on 3 January, 2012 at 8:44 am. 17 comments already!


The WaPo has the 6 counties to watch:

1. Dallas County

Why to watch it: This is the big suburban county in Iowa, and is one of the fastest-growing counties in the United States. It was the closest county in the state’s GOP caucuses in 2008, going for Romney by a mere four votes out of nearly 4,000 cast. It also happens to be the only county near Des Moines that Romney won, while Mike Huckabee racked up huge margins in the central part of the state.

What to watch for: Romney needs to expand his margin of victory here and hope that growing population means growing turnout. Particularly if he loses neighboring Polk County (see below), he would love to be able to make up a lot of those votes in Dallas County and then focus on his more traditional bases of support in the eastern and western parts of the state.

2. Dubuque County

Why to watch it: An eastern Iowa county firmly in Romney’s wheelhouse, Dubuque is heavily Catholic and pro-life. In fact, it was one of Romney’s best counties in the state, giving him 42 percent of the vote despite qualms in other parts of the state about his Mormon religion.

What to watch for: Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum has made much of his Catholic faith and consistently pro-life record. Somehow upending Romney in Dubuque — or making it close — would be a very good sign for Santorum.

3. Johnson County

Why to watch it: Johnson is the home of the University of Iowa and, with it, scads of young voters. (A corollary: Story County, which includes Iowa State University). Young people turned out for then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in 2008, but will they come back early from winter break to take part in the Republican caucuses?

What to watch for: Given his reliance on young voters, Texas Rep. Ron Paul must do well in Johnson (and Story) if he wants to have a chance statewide. He took 15 percent in Johnson and 12 percent in Story in 2008 and must do much better this time to win. He probably needs to win both to have a chance at victory.

4. Polk County

Why to watch it: No list of counties to watch would be complete without the biggest county. Des Moines-based Polk County will account for upwards of 20 percent of the statewide caucus vote, and has recently been a pretty decisive electorate, giving one candidate a significant margin of victory (i.e. more than 10 percent). It gave then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush a 2,400-vote win out of less than 15,000 votes cast in 2000 and netted Mike Huckabee a near-3,000-vote margin in 2008.

What to watch for: This was one of the few more urban areas where Romney struggled in 2008, taking just 23 percent of the vote. Given the sheer number of votes at stake, he’s got to at least make it close. A win here would be a really good sign for him, virtually guaranteeing a victory statewide.

5. Sioux County

Why to watch it: Sioux, located in the far northwestern corner of Iowa, has the highest Republican registration (by percentage) of any county in the state. It’s also widely regarded as the home county of Iowa’s social conservative movement. In 2008, Huckabee carried it with a massive 53 percent.

What to watch for: Sioux has to be Santorum country today. While it’s hard to imagine Santorum matching Huckabee’s lofty percentage from four years ago, the higher he can get his number, the better indicator it will be that he has unified social conservatives behind his candidacy.

6. Woodbury County

Why to watch it: This Sioux-City based county in western Iowa is Romney’s base. He netted more votes here (500-plus) in 2008 than in any other county, despite the fact that it’s just the sixth-biggest county in the state. But Rep. Michele Bachmann and Santorum have both been making a serious play for this part of the state.

What to watch for: Romney has only visited the northwest part of the state a couple times this year, and he’s spending his last few days elsewhere in the state. But if his base holds in an area where he hasn’t really spent much time and he wins by as much as he did last time (15 percent) that’s a very good sign for him.

And the final polls:

And then there is the turnout:

As three candidates – Romney, Paul, and Santorum – now vie for the chance to take home the blue ribbon from the Iowa caucuses tomorrow night, there are just two numbers to watch that will likely tell you all you need to know about who ultimately comes out on top. And they both have to do with turnout.

A little history: in 2008, the expected turnout for the Republican caucuses was 80-85,000 voters. Back then, the Romney campaign reportedly identified nearly 50,000 Iowans who backed Mitt, and worked using a normal political assumption that half to two-thirds of those would show up to caucus for him — giving him around 30,000 votes total. Under the assumed result of 85,000 votes cast, that would have given Romney 35% of the vote – enough to win the caucuses outright.

Well, Romney got his 30,000 voters out in the dead of winter on January 3, 2008, but as we all know, the assumptions were shattered as over 118,000 people voted that year (a record number of votes for any Republican caucus in history). Where did the extra voters come from?

Quite simply, from evangelical churches – the informal but passionate, under-the-radar “organization” that propelled Mike Huckabee to victory. Huckabee, a former Baptist preacher, consolidated and encouraged evangelical support like no other candidate has been able to do, and in the process flipped the entire caucus on its head.

Under “normal” circumstances, the percentage of evangelical voters participating in the Iowa caucuses is around 35%. In 2008, that number nearly doubled to 60%. There were literally more evangelical voters at the caucuses in 2008 than there were in 2000 and 1996 combined. To put that in a little more perspective, more evangelicals voted for Mike Huckabee in 2008 than voted in total for all the candidates in 2000.

In 2012, however, nobody expects evangelicals to comprise 60% of the caucus attendance this time around. In fact, the Des Moines Register poll shows evangelical turnout in the state back down to normal levels – they have it pegged at 38%.

Just thirty-eight percent – a decline of 22% from four years ago. Why? Because there’s no Huckabee on the ballot this year. There is no evangelical preacher who naturally and overwhelmingly connects with that community of people. This year, the evangelical vote is splintered — or at least, was splintered until Rick Santorum started his flavor-of-the-month surge.

Now evangelicals, following the lead of Bob Vander Plaats and a few other prominent religious leaders, have someone they can line up behind. It is by no means anywhere close to the support Huckabee enjoyed in 2008, and the religious vote is still more splintered than it was back then, but Rick Santorum’s caucus strategy has got to be to maximize the percentage of religious voters who turnout tomorrow night.

If exit polls show evangelical voters around 35% of the electorate, Rick Santorum cannot win. If they approach 45% or 50%, however, he could pull this thing off.

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