The end is near. Not just for the Iowa Caucus, but for many candidates’ campaigns. A poor showing in Iowa will mean it’s time to close up shop for many presidential hopefuls. This is where a lot of the underdogs have put their hopes, using the retail politicking and organizing of Iowa to compete with the candidates with considerably more money. It still won’t be enough for many, however, and Iowa will once again play its role in winnowing the field.
Here’s our rankings of who is most likely to drop out of the presidential race after Iowa:
1. Rick Santorum
The 2012 Iowa Caucus winner’s hope that he’ll somehow replicate his last-minute win again entered into the delusional stage several months ago. Santorum is unlikely to break 3% on caucus night, where he’s spent the vast majority of his time. And it’s not just that he’s underfunded or lacks any media coverage. He’s also hurt by the lack of a compelling message. It’s peculiar to watch Santorum at multi-candidate events talk on end about his campaign victories in the early 1990’s. There’s nothing in Santorum’s approach this cycle that’s going to light a fire under caucus-goers in the final weeks. He only had about $225,000 on hand at the end of the 3rd quarter anyway. There’s a small chance he continues for a while simply because he personally loves campaigning and driving all over states to small events, but I’d be surprised if he didn’t drop out the night of the caucus or day after.
2. Mike Huckabee
The wheels are already starting to come off the Huckabee campaign, having lost his communications director last week, cutting the salaries of his senior staff and getting bumped down into the under-card Republican debate. No one’s coming back from that, and he’s also headed to a disappointing finish in Iowa in the low single digits. Huckabee was near the top of the Iowa polls very early on, but caucus-goers have now largely rejected him as old news. He doesn’t get any support in several recent New Hampshire polls, and doesn’t break 2% in recent South Carolina ones. Huckabee will call it a day after Iowa.
3. Martin O’Malley
The underdog Democratic candidate’s chances in the caucus don’t look good at this point. At only 6% in the most recent Iowa Poll, O’Malley’s at risk of missing viability in many precincts around the state, depressing his totals further (some think Clinton and Sanders groups will give him supporters to keep his groups viable – that may happen, but probably only a in a small number of precincts).
O’Malley’s supporters point to polls that show Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton at this point in the primary 8 and 12 years ago, and there’s still a small outside chance he moves up some more before caucus night. But to stay in the game and keep fundraising afloat, O’Malley needs to catch up a lot. If he can’t surpass Sanders for 2nd place in Iowa, what’s enough to say you exceeded expectations? Coming within 10 points of Sanders? 5? If he doesn’t, it’s questionable as to what the point of staying in for New Hampshire would be, or whether he’d even have the money for it.
4. Rand Paul
The libertarian Senator came perilously close to getting demoted from the main stage at the last Republican debate. His campaign sounded like they might consider dropping out if that happened. It may yet. Paul is on track for a disappointing Iowa Caucus finish, maybe coming in 6th place despite holding a real niche appeal among certain Republicans. It won’t get any better for Paul in the other early states, and he’ll probably lose his spot on the later debate stages, so he may drop out soon after Iowa to save face and focus on his Senate race back in Kentucky.
5. Carly Fiorina
This is why you shouldn’t outsource most of your campaign infrastructure to a Super PAC. Fiorina never capitalized on any of her momentum from strong debate performances, and will now likely finish near the bottom of the pack in the caucus. More than others, she seems to be auditioning for a cabinet position or VP slot, so she may stick with her campaign for as long as she can stay in the debates. But she has zero chance of placing well in any other early state.
6. Ben Carson
How quickly they fall. After leading the Iowa polls for over a month, Carson is dropping like a rock, slipping to 3rd or 4th place now in most surveys. He could end up even lower than that on caucus night. That will be devastating for Carson’s ability to remain a serious, viable candidate. He has enough money and enough residual support in the polls in other early states to justify continuing for a while. But he’ll never regain even a fraction of the support he once had, now mostly with Cruz and Trump. Though who knows, he may just go on another book tour or overseas trip.
7. Jeb Bush
What does the long-ago front-runner do? I actually think Bush may end up in 4th place in Iowa if he can overcome Carson, but even then he’ll do it with 10% or less. That’s not a very inspiring result to take on to the other states. Even if he exceeds his currently low expectations, where does he go from here? His brand does better in New Hampshire, but he’s getting squeezed out there by Christie and Kasich. His home state of Florida isn’t far on the primary schedule, so he could hold out for that. The Super PACs backing him still have tons of money. Financially he could continue. But what if it becomes obvious that it’s just not going to happen anywhere? Do you avoid the embarrassment of getting blown out in the state you were once Governor of?
Who knows, his hatred of Trump may keep him in for a while, simply to antagonize Trump and do the party a favor in beating him up. However, Bush in his mind still seems to see himself as the eventual nominee, not an underdog or spoiler candidate struggling to hang on. At some point he may finally come to terms with his fate and drop out before many other early states, and that could come sooner after Iowa than some think.
All the other candidates can survive a poor Iowa showing. Chris Christie and John Kasich have placed their bets on New Hampshire, and won’t be impacted much by what happens in Iowa. Trump, Cruz, Rubio, Sanders and Clinton will all do well, or at least have a strong enough national operation to survive any Iowa setback. Pataki and Gilmore are delusional and may just sleep through caucus night. And then literally as I was typing a line about Lindsey Graham, it was announced that he’s dropping out.
by Pat Rynard