About a month ago in this space I told you, Iowa, that the end was near.
Today, the end is here.
After dozens of town hall meetings, hundreds of candidate campaign stops and way, way too many political commercials, the 2012 Iowa GOP caucuses are all over but the voting — and the counting.
Which means there’s still time for some predicting.
We want to know who you think will win the Iowa Caucuses -- and we want to know why. Vote below in our poll, then go to our comments section to tell us why you think that candidate will win.
Here is a disclaimer (also known as a pre-emptive excuse) regarding my picks: I am an Ohio transplant, and not a real Iowan — something like an Ohiowan — so I am not to be completely trusted.
I’ve done a lot, though, to transform myself from Buckeye to Hawkeye: I have sworn and sweated through the Ames Straw Poll; I’ve choked down chocolate-covered bacon and grease-encased cheese at the Iowa State Fair; I’ve entered Kinnick Stadium full of Hawkeye Hope and breakfast Bloody Marys; and I’ve swerved prayerfully and violently on I-80 to avoid hitting about 9,000 deer. (Dead ones, but still.)
And if that’s not enough to make me think like an Iowan, the truth is that in this Caucus, it doesn’t really matter: Heading into tonight’s voting, more than four in 10 Iowans aren’t certain how they’ll vote themselves. So, really, how am I supposed to know?
That said, here's my guess on how I think this long, exhausting, exhilarating, confounding, predictably unpredictable race will end:
First Place: Rick Santorum. Get used to the phrase, “The Santorum Surprise” — at least until next week, when he gets hammered in New Hampshire. If politics is all about peaking at the right time — and it is — I’m thinking he finishes a point or two ahead of Romney and Paul. Social conservatives who want one of their own at the top will see their votes wasted on Bachmann and, to a lesser extent, on Perry and Gingrich. Their votes go to Santorum.
Second: Mitt Romney. While other candidates have been up and down, he has largely maintained his polling place in the low- to mid-20s, save that brief affair many of his supporters had with Gingrich in early December. Finding that cheating really doesn’t pay, those wayward supporters won’t hop in bed with another candidate but will return, whistling, to Romney’s side as if nothing ever happened.
Third: Ron Paul. Right behind Romney and quite possibly a fraction of a point ahead. A week ago, I’d have picked him at first, but when someone like Paul loses support, the people who leave don’t come back. His organization, though — plus the prospect of Democrats taking advantage of same-day GOP registration — could send him to his presidential demise in New Hampshire a happy man.
Fourth: Rick Perry. It’s either Gingrich or Perry in this slot, and I’m going with Perry because his supporters actually seem to like him. On the other hand, when Gingrich’s support was on the rise, I had the feeling that people were liking Gingrich because he isn’t Romney. Now, Santorum isn’t Romney.
Fifth: Newt Gingrich. For an experienced politician, he handled his lead in Iowa like a first-time student council candidate. First, he predicted that he would not only win the Iowa caucuses but also the nomination. That made people take a longer, harder look at him, which led to his second problem: When Romney, Paul, Perry and their surrogates started round-housing him over his failed marriage to Nancy Pelosi and two other women, he never swung back.
Sixth: Michele Bachmann. She peaked with her Iowa Straw Poll victory in Ames and began falling about 30 seconds later and has fallen to the point that over the weekend she was compelled to pull an Alfred E. Newman. When politicians say they’re not worried, as Bachmann did over the weekend, here’s what their supporters should do: worry.
Seventh: Jon Huntsman. He’s got to regret not campaigning in Iowa. And Bachmann’s got to be glad he didn’t; he’s the only person preventing her from finishing last.
SUPER-BONUS PREDICTION: NOVEMBER’S PRESIDENTIAL WINNER WILL BE...You’ve got to be kidding me.
Todd Richissin is Patch's regional editor for Iowa.
The caucuses are here. Patch will have live coverage of the results as they come in.