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Presidential Horse Race 2016: Iowa the first stop on the Ted Cruz road to Cleveland

Well, this is it. Today is February 1, the date set for the Iowa caucuses. Tonight, we’ll know for sure who has the early momentum in the Republican presidential race.

For the past three months Iowa has been largely a two-man race between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Trump lost the polling lead to Ben Carson in October, regained it in November and then lost it again to Cruz in December. January saw Trump regain the top spot, though time and again people who know what they’re Ted Cruz bustalking about have said Cruz’s supremely organized ground game is much more valuable than any margins in opinion surveys.

And naturally, now that one race is over (the pre-voting campaign) and one is about to begin, the media is doing its best to stir up buzz on Marco Rubio to join in the conversation.

Katie Glueck of Politico reports, “On Friday and in the hours following Thursday’s debate, other campaigns seized on an off-kilter performance from Cruz to crow that he is losing his grasp on Iowa, a state where he led by double digits last month.

“But in the final days before the Iowa caucuses, a number of polls show him trailing significantly behind Donald Trump. Cruz and his team are lobbing a wide variety of attacks at the GOP front-runner and have been for the last two weeks, though it remains unclear whether any of those arguments are penetrating, and Cruz on Thursday lost the opportunity to spell out those contrasts in person.”

Duh. Of course rival campaigns are going to try and paint this scenario and the media is apparently swallowing it hook, line and sinker.

To begin with, what was so terrible about Cruz’s debate “performance” on Thursday? His retort to Chris Matthews on the fairness of the questions was probably his weakest moment, but other than looking a little petty at that instant, what was wrong with the substance of what he said?

Just because Rubio said Ted’s campaign is based on a lie later in the debate doesn’t mean it’s true or that people believe it. Rubio’s the one who’s trying to put one over on uninformed people.

Second, in drumming up supposedly new momentum for Marco Rubio, what’s this theory based on? Rubio gave his fairly standard debate “performance” in Des Moines. Both he and Cruz always conclude every answer with “If I am elected president, then I will….(fill in the blank).”

Rubio dishes out promise upon promise, but where’s his record to back it up? What great fights of the day did he lead to draw the favor of conservative and Republican voters?

Oh yeah, there was that Gang of Eight immigration thing, the one where he stood next to the smirking faces of Senators Charles Schumer, Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Dick Durbin to promote. Are the voters of Iowa suddenly going to tuck that image away and believe Marco now when he says all of it doesn’t matter without border security?

It’s all a sham. Rubio is indeed an attractive young candidate with a golden ability to speak off the cuff. He’s the Republican version of Obama – and yes, people are tired of the comparisons. But they’re not that far off in reality.

Cruz is the same age as Rubio yet has done battle with Obama and the Republican establishment since the day he took his oath of office. Ted said during Thursday night’s debate: “I didn’t go to Washington to go along to get along. If I am elected I will tell the truth and do what I said I would do.”

Anyone who doubts him hasn’t been paying attention. Some folks may not like what Cruz does, but they should never question him when he says he’s going to do something. He’ll follow through on it.

Third, if Marco is really making a last minute move, where is Rubio’s “new” support going to come from? Are Trump’s legions going to ditch The Donald now to jump to Rubio’s side? Or, would Cruz’s backers decide he isn’t the one in favor of amnesty-supporter Marco Rubio?

It’s highly unlikely in either case. Rubio could pick up some new caucusgoers from other candidates at this late stage, but probably not from Trump and definitely not from Cruz.

Erick Erickson of The Resurgent said it well, writing, “Ultimately, the very same group who has gotten everything else wrong about the 2016 election and the mood of the voters went on television tonight (Thursday) with well-rehearsed, clearly orchestrated talking points and got the debate wrong too.

“Yes, I do think Marco Rubio had a really good debate and came across as more pleasant than Cruz in the debate. But that is not going to hurt Ted Cruz. After all, all the right people hate him and the voters love him. The voters, not the talking heads, matter.”

Lastly, Cruz’s ground game is said to be the best across-the-board. Rubio is supposedly operating a digital campaign to get people to caucus while Cruz is employing more of the traditional knock-on-doors retail politics strategy.

Which is likely to be more effective?

When all is said and done, I’m going with Cruz. Rubio could be rising and may even come in second, but months of hard work by Cruz’s people cannot possibly be supplanted by all the media hype in the world in the past three days.

Reliable Des Moines Register final poll tabs Trump as winner, but…

Pundits may be in the tank for Marco Rubio, but Donald Trump now can boast about the weight of a final poll that predicts he’ll prevail tonight.

Jennifer Jacobs of the Des Moines Register reports, “Trump stands at 28 percent, while rival Ted Cruz has slid to 23 percent. But there’s still a strong case for Cruz in this race — he’s more popular and respected than Trump, the final Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics Iowa Poll shows.

“’The drill-down shows, if anything, stronger alignment with Cruz than Trump, except for the horse race,’ said J. Ann Selzer, the pollster for the Iowa Poll.”

The survey reports Marco Rubio with 15 percent. It also shows Cruz and Rubio as solid second choices going into the voting, while Trump isn’t strong in that category. Just as has been the case all along, people either tend to love Trump or can’t stand him. Not much middle ground there.

And, almost half of those surveyed indicated they could change their minds before voting. “Another sign of a possible cliffhanger Monday night: Although just 9 percent of likely GOP caucusgoers haven't yet made a choice, they're part of the 45 percent who could be persuaded to change their minds in the final hours before the nation fires the starting gun on 2016 presidential voting at 7 p.m. in Iowa,” Jacobs added.

That’s right, 45 percent could still switch candidates.

The poll’s also-rans included Ben Carson at 10 percent, Rand Paul at 5 and Chris Christie at 3 percent. The others are all at 2 percent.

So the contest winner will likely depend on Trump’s turnout, though Jacobs reports that the poll did not detect a flood of new voters. She also notes that there’s no surge for Marco Rubio either -- and his support actually declined during the four days of polling.

The pundits aren’t going to like that part of the results – it doesn’t fit their three-man race narrative.

Lastly, the poll also found Cruz stands to benefit the most from voters changing their minds at the last moment.

If history is a guide, there will be some fluidity in the results. Rick Santorum gained nine points in 2012 between the final poll and the actual votes. Mike Huckabee also out-performed his poll numbers in 2008. Evangelical turnout seems to be the key here, and that’s another indication Cruz could easily do better than the poll would suggest.

Snow is in the Iowa forecast…for Tuesday, when all the votes will already have been safely cast. Here’s thinking Ted’s machine will get his people to the polls. It’s going to be a close one.

Iowa the final battlefield for some candidate warriors?

With the Republican field having made it all the way to Iowa still with twelve candidates, you might think there’s more than enough reason for some more to drop out after tonight.

Wrong.

Just because five candidates have left since the first debate in August doesn’t mean the field is about to be trimmed further – no matter how warranted it might be.

Ben Kamisar and Lisa Hagen of The Hill report, “On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum are the likeliest to pack up if the former Iowa caucus winners have a disappointing finish on Monday.

“Iowa could also deal Ben Carson, Rand Paul and Carly Fiorina a crucial blow if they fail to outperform their spot at the polls. But most experts believe they’ll hang on with enough financial resources to pray for a backup plan.”

None of the establishment candidates are mentioned in the group of potential losers because they’re all concentrating hard on New Hampshire. We’ll have to wait at least eight more days to see if any of them feel compelled to capitulate.

There’s a feeling the lowest polling Republicans will also hang on for a while longer, hoping to catch fire after the early voting states if none of the candidates establish themselves as clear favorites.

They’re hoping for a 2012 scenario in 2016. But the two campaigns are worlds apart.

In 2012 there was the usual clear establishment choice. This year there isn’t, though Marco Rubio – and Donald Trump – appear to be competing for that title.

But Ted Cruz won’t be going anywhere as the best candidate for conservatives, so no “lane” will be opening for the others, unlike in 2012, where several vied for the “not-Romney” slot.

Super PAC money might allow the bottom dwellers to continue, but it’s reached the point where they’re staying in just to satisfy their own egos.

Let’s hope tonight’s results convince several of them to hang it up.

Iowa winners and losers

Throughout the months I’ve avoided making a lot of predictions, but with the voting about to begin, it’s time to go out on a limb.

I predict Ted Cruz will win in Iowa by three or four points, thanks to his ground game and 99-county strategy. Trump will take second and Rubio behind him at around 15 percent.

Ben Carson will fall to six percent and come in fifth. Rand Paul’s effort to court college kids will allow him to slightly outperform his poll numbers to come in fourth.

The rest will fight for the bottom slots.

For the Democrats, I predict Bernie Sanders will pull off an Obama-like upset in Iowa, leaving Hillary Clinton reeling with nightmares of a repeat of 2008.

And then tomorrow, we’ll move on to New Hampshire.

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