No matter who wins, Iowa will reshape the Republican presidential race one week from today – and almost certainly in ways that don’t adhere to any semblance of a traditional political script.
All the candidates dream finishing at the top of the pack, but where the losers place and whether they drop out or valiantly trudge ahead could be as significant as who comes in first.
The most recent example from political history: the narrowest of margins separated Fred Thompson and John McCain in the 2008 caucuses, but because Thompson barely claimed third he found a rationale to go forward, skip New Hampshire and make a final stand in South Carolina. That mattered – Thompson’s staying in the race resulted in a split conservative vote in South Carolina which snuffed out Mike Huckabee’s chances at the nomination and enabled McCain to score a critical win and boost before Florida.
In other words: the post-Iowa decision of a candidate who is otherwise politically dead can not only be relevant but even determinative.
And in this primary, where the unforeseen has been the norm, most every candidate has a chance to be an influential supporting actor if not the glamorous lead.