Jonathan Karl of ABC News just reported that Newt Gingrich doesn’t expect to win tomorrow’s Iowa caucuses. Earlier today, Rick Santorum was quoted as saying he hopes to finish ahead of Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann — a bar he should clear easily. Chalk this up to the expectations game.
Fairly or not, the media is going to judge candidates not just by how the perform but by whether their performance measures up to what is expected. Those expectations change over time. Just weeks ago, a third place showing would have been a victory for Ron Paul. Now it would be a bit of a disappointment. Similarly, there was a time when Perry would have been devastated by a third place showing. Now he’d be ecstatic. Santorum would have been pleased by a fourth place finish earlier this month. Now it would be shocking for him to end up outside the top three.
In an ideal scenario, Mitt Romney probably would have preferred to still be flying underneath the radar. That said, there was a time when it seemed unrealistic for him to win the caucuses. Now it doesn’t, so there will be more of an impact if he winds up second or worse. Over the next 24 hours, nearly as much effort will be expended managing expectations as trying to get out the vote.