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What the Major Campaigns Need Tonight

By John McIntyre

Democrats

John Edwards

Edwards has to win Iowa. And he probably has to win by a decent amount, or else have Clinton come in third by a sizable amount. A second place finish and he will stick around, but with little money he will not have the opportunities to gain traction as the primary calendar speeds into more and more states.

Barack Obama

Obama has to beat Clinton. And given the current New Hampshire polls and Senator Clinton's 20+ national poll advantage, he in all likelihood has to win Iowa. The only way second place might work is if Clinton finishes a distant third. A third place finish tonight and the Obama campaign is almost certainly done.

Hillary Clinton

Clinton only has to avoid getting embarrassed. Because of her money, organization and huge lead nationally she can survive a loss, even a third place finish. Though a distant, humiliating third could very well be the beginning of the end.

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If Obama wins Iowa, the Democratic race will probably come down to Clinton vs. Obama in New Hampshire. Both the Clinton and Obama campaigns are obviously well positioned to compete far past New Hampshire, but an Obama win in Iowa tonight, coupled with a win Tuesday would make him the clear front-runner. On the other hand, if Clinton -- who currently holds a 7-point lead in the latest RCP Average in New Hampshire -- is able to hold off Obama, the nomination contest will move on to Nevada, South Carolina and February 5 and Obama will in all likelihood have lost his window to halt the Clinton machine.

Republicans

Mike Huckabee

To keep his long-shot hopes of winning the GOP nomination alive there is no question Huckabee has to win Iowa, and win big. However, since Huckabee is unlikely to become the GOP nominee no matter what happens tonight, all he has to do is finish in a close second to play a significant role in the rest of this campaign as it moves past Iowa and New Hampshire and on to Michigan, South Carolina and Florida.

Mitt Romney

Romney is facing a precarious five days. Because of McCain's surge in New Hampshire -- particularly the timing of McCain's surge -- a loss tonight in Iowa would probably foreshadow a loss to McCain on Tuesday. While the Romney campaign will have all the money they need to press on -- and may even be able to do well in Michigan on January 15 -- an 0-2 start for a campaign that based its entire nominating strategy on leveraging early wins in Iowa and New Hampshire would be the beginning of the end for the Romney campaign.

John McCain

Would love a third place finish, but quite frankly the McCain campaign would trade a Romney loss for third place any day. McCain simply needs fourth or better.

Fred Thompson

Has to have a solid third or better.

Rudy Giuliani

Would prefer not to be embarrassed by sixth place and a below 5% finish, but at this stage in the Giuliani campaign tonight really won't have much of an effect. Like the McCain camp, Rudy is hoping Huckabee holds on to win.

Ron Paul

The caucus format gives the Paul campaign a chance to really pull a surprise. And heading into New Hampshire -- a state where Paul does have an ideological constituency -- the eccentric Paul campaign might find some decent momentum. Of course no matter how well Paul does tonight, or in New Hampshire, he will not be the GOP nominee.

John McIntyre is the co-founder & President of RealClearPolitics. Email: john@realclearpolitics.com

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