Politico has one of the first of what will be many pieces in the next few days on the expectations game in Iowa as we head into the Ames straw poll on Saturday. Without Giuliani, McCain, or Fred Thompson in the contest, Mitt Romney will almost certainly win unless some significant event or grand conspiracy of his opponents intervenes. Is a win a win or will Romney have to beat George Bush’s margin in 1999( 31.3% of the votes tabulated with a ten point gap over his nearest opponent)? Without the top three should he be at 40 or 45% of the vote? In response to my question about expectations, Larry J. Sabato advises of the games that will go on in the post-vote spin: “Let’s assume Romney wins a modest victory. All other candidates will say, ‘What a shocking and disappointing result! He should have gotten (give Romney’s % and add 10).'” If Huckabee makes it close or widens the gap between himself and the also rans then he will claim bragging rights to be the “break through” candidate. The folks who lose and those are not there will be happy to remind us that past Ames straw poll winners –Pat Robertson (1987), Phil Gramm(who tied Bob Dole in 1995) and George Bush(in 1979)–didn’t go on to win the nomination. If he wins, Romney will: 1) offer Bob Dole(1995) and George Bush(1999) as counterexamples of straw poll vote winners who did get the nomination: 2) note that he won the first vote regardless of the competition; and 3) explain that he gave his team a trial run for the Iowa caucus in January.
Finally, for someone not on the ballot for the Ames straw poll, Rudy Giuliani is spending a lot of time and working very hard in Iowa. On Monday he talked about his commitment to reduce abortions and increase adoptions and today it was about protecting the quality of life for children. He has had 4 or 5 stops a day since his weather delayed arrival just before the debate Sunday morning. Talking directly about promoting a “culture of life,” of course, is aimed squarely at social conservatives who make up a significant segment of the GOP electorate there. Now I’m told he has added an extra night’s stay and a stop for tomorrow in Council Bluffs.