The first day that actually counts in Iowa

OK we’ve gone through months of debate and speculation today we find out exactly what the people in Iowa think.

The polls suggest a good finish for my candidate and I’d love to predict a win for him, but I would not be surprised if he finished anywhere in the top 3.

What will happen? At the risk of looking a fool here is what I think:

1. Paul: I think Ron Paul’s time has actually come, his message of fiscal conservatism has been a “voice crying out in the wilderness” has now moved into the mainstream, and he has built an organization for a decade and this is paying off now. No amount of bad weather will slow them down. I don’t care much for his message of 1930’s isolationism but there are those who do. I don’t think the newsletters will hurt him as much as his son the senator will help him in this state and no matter what you think of him nobody can doubt he means what he says.

2. Romney: A caucus is all about organization and Romney has the organization in spades. His campaign is well-funded and organized and with a large payroll. Like Ron Paul his people are going to show but for a different reason. When all is said and done and the candidates are gone the Romney organization will be in a position to reward friends and oppose foes. It’s like having a Union steward making sure that members show up to an event, or else. Romney is playing a game of attrition and Iowa is step one. It will all be a question on how his finish is spun and believe me his team spin for any finish has already been written.

3. Santorum: He has risen at exactly the right time and if the surge continues he could finish higher. He has a strong record but also the wisdom that comes from defeat and seeing where the people are. His quiet old-fashioned campaign is naturally appealing and his surge is late enough that attacks on him not only won’t have time to get traction but the attacks of his dead child as they mocked his crying daughter six years ago are going to backfire spectacularly. As Stacy McCain notes:

Yeah, it’s her: The Santorum kid who gave me that quote was the same girl who cried so helplessly on national TV that night in 2006 during her dad’s concession speech. I’d forgotten all about that, until I saw the picture. Then I remembered how the video clip had been played over and over on the news, and also on late-night comedy shows while people mocked the way Sarah and her family cried. And I remembered my wife saying how bad she felt while watching that little girl, hugging her doll, and crying for the whole world to see.

Conservatives are in a fighting mood and the memory of late night liberal comics hitting Santorum’s little girl will get them rolling up their sleeves.

4. Gingrich: Newt remains a powerful symbol of GOP success, he has taken the second beating of this campaign and is still standing. He is the single best talker and debater in the party and his telephone town halls are not only creative but effective. People have hit him for saying “I’m not going to win” but I think this year speaking realistically pays off.

5. Perry: His best sound bite came 72 hours too late to make a difference but he still has money and is the sitting governor of a state that is doing great in a bad economy. His main problems are #1 The initial snub of Iowa, #2 Those awful debate performances #3 And the suspicion that he was behind attacks that finished Cain. Unlike other candidates a 5th place finish won’t harm him because as the Governor of Texas people will still need to be on his good side and he strikes me as a man who remembers who was with him and who was not.

6. Bachmann: She deserves better than this but the reality is she has crashed and burned since winning the NH debate several months ago and the defections of both her superpac and her lead man in Iowa are devastating. A break here or there and she and Rick Santorum would be in the opposite positions. I would not be surprised to see her on a Romney Ticket if he wins the nomination and I would approve of such a choice.

7. Huntsman: Only the most loyal Iowans will take time out from picking corn to choose this candidate but in fairness he hasn’t tried to attract them. The irony is if he didn’t come out of the box hitting conservatives he might have done a bit better.

The big question is: Will Bachmann drop out? I doubt it for two reasons:

1. There is a NH debate Saturday and she will want to use it as a last chance.

2. It is in Mitt Romney’s interest for her to still be in play till at least Florida, particularly if Santorum does very well so expect Romney’s people to make sure she has to money to maintain life support to take votes away from Perry and Santorum if he really grows.

The biggest winner of all? Cokie Roberts of ABC who predicted a Santorum win back in November.

Update: Eye of Polyphepus. puts Paul 3rd and bumps Romney and Santorum up a spot but agrees with me otherwise. The right sphere agrees with Polyphepus on the top 3 but Puts, perry 4th, Bachmann 5th Newt 6th and Huntsman last.

Update 2: Stacy McCain asks the $64,000 question at Hotair and the Spectator that will be repeated after tonight.

How can Gingrich and Perry’s advocates claim that they are credible alternatives to Romney, if they can’t even beat a low-budget underdog campaign like Santorum’s? And what does it say for the vaunted superiority of those other campaigns that they failed to realize Santorum was moving ahead here until it was too late for them to respond effectively?

The first requirement for electability is to win elections.

Update 3: The final stake through the heart for Bachmann comes from Sarah Palin:

“As for Michelle Bachmann. She has a lot to offer, also, but I don’t think it is her time this go around. And I believe that unless she, too, wants to spend her own money or borrowing money and perhaps go into debt. Which heaven forbid, you do that to your family? Perhaps she is one, too, who would start saying ‘supporters of mine, why don’t we coalesce around one of the other candidates and let’s move together as a team to get that right primary candidate chosen?'” Sarah Palin said on FOX News today.”