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Presidential Horse Race 2016: Why a reputable pollster forecasts a Cruz win in Iowa

Glancing at the latest Real Clear Politics polling average for Iowa, you see Donald Trump has retaken the lead in The Hawkeye State, 27.8 percent to Ted Cruz’s 26.7 percent.

Those results are certain to set off another wave of brash rhetoric and bold predictions from The Donald himself, but before he or his supporters get too excited, the bigger picture needs to be taken into account.

Ted Cruz supportersFor example, pollster Nate Silver’s very reputable FiveThirtyEight group now gives Cruz a fairly sizeable chance to beat Trump in a little less than two weeks.

Kristen East of Politico reports, “Ted Cruz ha[s] the greatest chance of winning the Iowa caucuses two weeks from Monday, a new polling-based forecast from FiveThirtyEight shows.

“Cruz has a 51 percent chance of winning Iowa when national and state polls as well as endorsements are taken into account. In that forecast, Donald Trump trails Cruz with a 29 percent chance of winning Feb. 1.”

It should be noted FiveThirtyEight also likes Trump’s chances of winning in New Hampshire.

Why should we take FiveThirtyEight’s word for it? They’ve put together a comprehensive formula which employs many different factors in compiling a forecast. They were remarkably accurate in forecasting Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012, for example, though it should be pointed out they didn’t do nearly as well in foreseeing the 2014 Republican congressional wave.

Intangibles were a major consideration in 2014 and I think the same phenomenon is occurring today, too.

This is where conservative enthusiasm comes into play. As is pretty well known by now, conservatives greatly outperformed the poll predictions two years ago, throwing the entire polling industry into turmoil. As we’ve discussed before, the rapid development of new technologies has made accurate surveying extremely difficult because it’s hard to get a large and diverse enough sample.

But there are other ways to tell who’s advancing and who’s receding.

Erick Erickson of The Resurgent reports he’s seen a dramatic uptick in interest towards Ted. “Mention Cruz and he generates a lot of traffic. This has actually only been the case since around Christmas. Before that, Cruz came nowhere close to Trump. But steadily and consistently he has been growing in traffic.

“That tells me that Cruz’s following has consolidated, gotten stronger, and his base of support has gotten highly energized. It’s a good sign that this is happening two weeks before Iowa.”

Add in other clues such as Cruz’s topping Gallup’s favorability ratings for the Republican field and you’ve got a pretty good idea of who to bet on.

One final nugget comes from Trump’s inability to rely on free media to spread his message in Iowa, like he’s done so effectively in other states. Everyone knows The Donald’s gotten the lion’s share of coverage from national media (kind of like what Erickson writes above, his name draws ratings), so it’s no surprise his poll numbers are correspondingly high.

It doesn’t necessarily work that way in Iowa, however. David Byler of Real Clear Politics says there are two reasons why. “First, Iowans aren’t just hearing from national media. Campaigns are attempting to reach potential caucus-goers by airing local television ads, holding rallies, sending direct mail, placing phone calls and deploying volunteers to knock on doors throughout the state. In other words, Iowans have sources of information other than the national media.

“Second, Iowans are faced with something that national audiences aren’t – a fast-approaching election. They are beginning to tune in and take a hard look at their choices because, unlike Americans nearly everywhere else, they get to vote in the immediate future.”

The closer we get to February 1, the more Iowans will be paying attention. They’ve already been bombarded for months with campaign rallies, TV ads and endless phone calls. The only thing remaining is to get them to their respective caucuses.

(And let’s not forget that polls 15 days before Iowa don’t have a great record in predicting the eventual winner there and in New Hampshire.)

Byler points out that Trump may still win in Iowa, despite the irrelevance of national media coverage there. That’s true, but there are a whole lot of signals that Cruz is the real man to watch.

Cruz anxious to be the alternative to Trump in New Hampshire, too

With Ted Cruz’s ground game in Iowa already functioning like a well-oiled machine, the Texas senator appears to be willing to let his surrogates handle the last minute preparations there and take his act elsewhere.

For those who thought Ted’s putting all his eggs in Iowa’s basket alone, think again.

Theodore Schleifer of CNN reports, “Cruz kicked off on Sunday evening here his most aggressive move yet to compete in Trump's strongest early voting state -- a five-day, 17-event bus tour that will hit all ten counties in the Granite State. And it is likely to be dominated by his increasingly nasty feud with Trump, who hovered over Cruz's launch even as Cruz seems not completely eager to bash him in front of an audience.”

Schleifer says Cruz had five events on Monday alone. Now that’s a full day.

Again looking at the Real Clear Politics average of New Hampshire polling, Cruz trails Trump by a wide margin and Marco Rubio and John Kasich by a smidgen. Considering he’s spent comparatively little time there in the past two months, Ted’s apparently got a solid foundation from which to grow.

There are good reasons for him to believe New Hampshire is fertile political soil. First, by establishing a solid second in national polls, Cruz is clearly emerging as the guy who many Republicans see as the alternative to Trump. As the wheels may be coming off the Trump train in the wake of his failed birther attacks, the New Yorker is beginning to look less attractive to some of those searching for a viable “outsider” candidate.

Second, New Hampshire has an established conservative/libertarian base that’s ripe for harvest. Let’s not forget Ron Paul finished second there in 2012 at 23%, so we know there are many liberty-minded voters who could see potential in Cruz as the best man to carry their message forward. Rand Paul lags badly at 4%, so there’s a pool of support there to be tapped.

Three, Cruz has very little to lose by going all out in New Hampshire right now. That may sound odd considering he really needs a win in Iowa, but as I said at the outset, his ground game is what’s most important there at this point. Holding more events in Iowa won’t carry the same bang for the buck as covering the shorter distances of New Hampshire.

He’s waited for the right time to concentrate on The Granite State.

Lastly, Cruz doesn’t have to win, so there’s no pressure in New Hampshire. Even finishing fourth would be considered a good showing there, so anything above that is gravy. With the establishment candidates blasting the crap out of each other, moving up a few points to finish second is eminently doable.

I’m not the only one impressed with Cruz’s timing. Erick Erickson of The Resurgent writes, “There are lots and lots of people who think Cruz cannot win a general election. They should look at his thus far perfect campaign strategy and think again. He has stayed on message, stayed focused, and struck at the perfect time with perfect favorability.

“Like him or not, it is impressive — the more so because he is not using a bunch of Washington consultants who get on television as experts to run his campaign and make these plays.”

Erickson was referring to Cruz’s waiting until the time was right to attack Trump. That’s kind of what’s going on in New Hampshire this week, though even in doing so, Ted is keeping the discussion civil.

The media wants to portray the Trump/Cruz feud as a parking lot brawl between the two frontrunners. At least on Cruz’s part, he’s keeping it civil.

Keep an eye on the New Hampshire polls in the next couple weeks. Don’t be surprised if you see a big Cruz surge there as well.

Cruz and Trump take opposite sides of the ethanol debate in Iowa

Ted Cruz may be jabbing at Donald Trump for his liberal past social views (“New York values”), but abortion and gay rights aren’t the only points of departure between the two candidates.

Further proof that Donald Trump isn’t a principled conservative comes from the Iowa race itself, where Cruz and The Donald have opposing positions on one of the campaign’s biggest issues in the state – ethanol subsidies.

John Fund of National Review writes, “A Cruz victory would also deflate Donald Trump, who has become the biggest booster of ethanol in Iowa. At a Des Moines rally last month, Trump surrounded himself on stage with green-T-shirt-wearing ethanol backers. He then claimed that Cruz was ‘in the pocket of big oil companies’ and taking a ‘very anti-Iowa’ position.”

That’s like saying Trump is anti-Constitution because he believes in eminent domain for private big real estate developers. Oh yeah…he does support that.

There’s a long-held belief that a Republican could not compete in Iowa without licking the boots of the ethanol establishment. Cruz is bucking the trend – and it could very well change the future of the issue if he’s successful in winning there this year.

South Carolina may be the rubber match in the Trump/Cruz early series

Finally today, last Thursday’s debate took place in South Carolina and there have been scattered reports about the race there, but thus far the third-voting Palmetto State has taken a backseat to Iowa and New Hampshire in terms of news focus.

That doesn’t mean the campaigns are overlooking it.

Theodore Schleifer of CNN reports, “Ted Cruz's team has a theory about how the next four weeks will go: He will edge out Donald Trump in Iowa, suffer a drubbing to him eight days later in New Hampshire, and then by the third week in February, actually be locked in the ‘two-man race’ that he today confidently predicts the election has already entered.

“Then, here in the Palmetto State, his path to the Republican nomination will be cemented.”

It may sound redundant, but the South Carolina polls indicate otherwise, showing Trump with a 14.5 point lead.

Like in Iowa and New Hampshire, however, the Cruz campaign has worked overtime to put in place a ground operation that will maximize his vote. With the results in Iowa and New Hampshire almost certain to draw the race closer, South Carolina is still very much up for grabs.

It’s about to get very interesting, folks.

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Slowly, Slowly, Catchee Trumpee

Old saying from British colonial days "Slowly, slowly, catchee monkey," meaning that a sudden attack tends to fail, but a gradual and stealthy approach works much better.
Cruz has built his base of support very carefully, sneaking up on The Donald without directly attacking him, and would likely have held off a little longer if Trump hadn't gone all birther on him.
Even now, Cruz takes care not to destroy his rivals, because there may be a need to trade delegates for a veep spot when it comes to the convention.
The long game - exactly the way he got the senate seat.