1. The polls five days out from the Iowa caucuses couldn’t be shaping up better for Mitt Romney. He has always had a vested interest in ensuring that the competitive portion of the Republican primaries was over before large numbers of Southern states vote. He’s in a good position to do that. If Romney wins Iowa and New Hampshire — or even comes in a strong second in Iowa — he will be hard to stop.
2. South Carolina and Florida have long been vital to Newt Gingrich, or any other conservative insurgent who hoped to beat Romney. Both states become even more important if Romney does well in Iowa and wins New Hampshire. But can Gingrich’s numbers hold up in either place if he finishes outside the top three in Iowa? Can whoever does come in third take Gingrich’s place if he can’t?
3. What will the eventual Republican nominee do about Ron Paul? There are obvious pros and cons to letting Paul speak at the convention. But Paul received 1 million votes last time. He is likely to do better, and win more delegates, next year. The Republican nominee will want as many of those votes as possible, a task that will become harder if Paul endorses newly christened Libertarian Gary Johnson instead.
4. The field is likely to start narrowing on January 4. Some candidates stay in until the convention, either out of stubborness or to maximize their support. Others drop out when it becomes mathematically impossible to win the nomination. Others still drop out when they have no realistic path to victory. And then there are those who run out of money. Expect members of the last two groups to start dropping out after Iowa.
5. As well as things are shaping up for Romney, a large percentage — perhaps a majority — of Republicans don’t really want to nominate him. Expect bumps on the road to the convention, even if he manages to run the table in the early states.
6. The vice presidential sweepstakes will begin soon. If Romney does wind up the nominee, only conservatives need apply — if he wants to win.