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.
I live in California now but came from Kingsley, Iowa in Plymouth County. No place like home!!
I’m predicting Perry as a surprise 3rd place dark horse finish. Don’t call it a comeback.
Perry has a bunch of volunteers (by which I mean hundreds) up from Texas to help with getting out the vote, so he should outperform. I was surprised he didn’t bounce back a little more in the polls, but I think his campaign made some bad choices when it came to TV ads.
Still… who do you think he’ll knock out of the top three in current polling?
Paul? Ron Paul has as many volunteers as Perry, a huge phone bank get-out-the-vote operation, and a list of over 30K voters who committed to caucusing for him. Probably not going to underperform his poll numbers.
Romney? Romney undershot his poll numbers a little in 2008 and has seen some his support disappear with every new alternative that’s surged. But he also has built a large phone list of supporters to call today, so I wouldn’t expect him to collapse.
Santorum? The new number three? Maybe. Santorum has momentum but so far as I know didn’t have the resources (until now, too late) to build a big get-out-the-vote operation. Still Perry would have to outperform his polling by about six percentage points to have any chance of catching him.
I think Perry beats Gingrich for fourth (which is a small upset with respect to the polling) but I don’t see him landing in the top three.
I think Paul will pull the upset 21% to 20.5% for Romney. Santorum a strong 3rd at 18%.
2nd tier A fading Newt 14% and Perry12% can’t get to S.C. and Fla.(Aqua tries to revive Rick) fast enough. Michele single”l” single digit 9% and my personal favorites– Huntsman’s daughters 5%
I read that weather has a lot to do with Iowa turnout.
Well, it is 80′ here in CA today.
But I read it is only 39′ in Iowa today.
Then I also read that 39′ is fantastic for Iowa this time of year!
Ron Paul has a bunch of Democrats planning on doing what they call “operation chaos” where they claim to become Republicans so they can caucus and vote Ron Paul today.
That will skew Iowa quite a bit…..if they really do it.
Nan Step away from that FOX NEWS and enjoy that beautiful S.C weather. I’m in San Clemente and heading out for a run.
Ron Paul will NOT win the nom even if it’s 70 and clear in every primary state to come.
@ Richard Wheeler:
I’d vote for Huntsman’s daughters. 🙂
I’m thinking (hoping) he edges out Santorum. I think Santorum is a good guy, but I don’t like his policies. He’s Dubya Lite, and while I liked Dubya’s patriotism and foreign policy, I was never a fan of his domestic policy. Compassionate Conservatism is epic fail. Conservatism is not about picking winners and losers, but allowing everyone a chance. Like the man said, the Constitution does not guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it.
Paul with a commanding 43% lead with all of 21 votes counted 🙂
That and a dime still doesn’t translate into a nomination, or electoral votes, bbart. But I’m happy you have a moment of pleasure and titillation.
I fully expect Ron Paul to do well in Iowa. But then, since Iowa has only picked a nominee three times since 1979, tonight is pretty much an evening to find a good movie to watch for me. yawn…. And that’s (a good movie) is even a more rare bird than a real conservative in politics.
Here’s the reality. No matter what Romney gets, and as Michael Henkins new readers post correctly observes, there’s only about 23-25% of moderate conservatives. Everyone else is looking for the anti-Romney that can be rallied around. And I assure you, that won’t be Ron Paul.
Based on exit polls and early returns, looks like Santorum has not managed to pull off a massive upset, but is still solidly in third around 18%. First is still too close to call, both Paul and Romney look like they have about 24-25%.
Mata Is Santorum the new “flavor of the month” Will F.A. readers be whiplashed one more time?
yes, Rich. Santorum is the flavor of the week (not month…). I have no idea about the FA “whiplash” you speak of. As far as I can tell, only a few have settled in on the best of the line up offered on the menu. This supports the real facts that about 2/3rds to 3/4s find Romney unacceptable as their first choice (tho he is likely to get the party support if the last man standing… simply because he’s not Obama).
My guess is that the conservative voters will continue to send a message to the GOP pundits and establishment by resisting Romney until either someone else gets the leg up, or doesn’t.
For me? Game over before it gets here. Unlikely that anyone other than Obama will take Oregon. I might as well not waste the gas, dropping off my ballot.
Mata With the new proportional primaries Oregon may still be in play when Repubs. arrive(do they?) Obama wins Oregon in Nov. True.Congrats to the Ducks on their incredible Rose Bowl win.
@MataHarley: ‘ Everyone else is looking for the anti-Romney that can be rallied around.’
You make it sound like you have time. We’ll see how many of the potential anti-Romneys manage to get on the Illinois ballot this weekend.
@Richard Wheeler: Looks like you’re wrong again, Rich.
Anticsrocks Pretty darn close on 1-7 order of finish.
As you know I’ve always had Romney winning the nom.
How are your guys and gal working out?
Congrats to Curt on picking Santorum.
Put up a new thread on the Iowa caucus