I have been thinking a lot about the race, and not writing so much. There are plenty of theories about what is going on and what is going to happen. Rather than make predictions, let me ask questions.
First, the most important question is probably going to be the relative dates of Iowa, New Hampshire, and Michigan. Mitt Romney’s edge in Iowa means that he wants it as late as possible. That guarantees him a win, while making it easier to slow the momentum of others.
Second, will Rudy Giuliani fall? There is a real possibility that the Alan Placa story, combined with the Bernie Kerik story next month could take a piece out of him. (It seems clear that the reason that the DNC got the Placa story on ABC was to refer to it next month when the Kerik trial is a live story) I have long thought that the danger to Rudy wasn’t his social liberalism. It is the broader character attacks, as they drive to his fundamental narrative. Note also, that, if this stuff really bites, it will almost certainly be done through earned media. No one has to shove in the knife. It wouldn’t be that way if the attack were social issues.
Third, if the Placa+Kerik story doesn’t kill Rudy, how well does he have to do before Florida to allow him to play in Florida and Feb. 5th?
Fourth, will John McCain seem plausible enough to benefit when/if Rudy is attacked? Early on, it was clear that McCain was the #2 for a large number of Rudy supporters. But for people to make that switch, McCain has to seem viable. I think that his "comeback" narrative is now strong enough to provide a magnet. At least in South Carolina, New Hampshire, and Michigan. If combined with an "electability" argument, like Ramesh’s, McCain’s game could still be on.
Fifth, is Fred Thompson really running for President? If so, doesn’t he have to go through Mitt Romney first? Isn’t that how he actually adds votes? When does it start? And where? It seems that he actually has the resources to rip Romney up.
Sixth, and related. Romney has a flip-flopping, character, and authenticity problem. But someone is going to have to actually buy gross rating points to move this message. Who? Rudy has the resources, but is probably saving them for later. And, in any case, both Mike Huckabee and Thompson are only relevant if Romney fails. The incentives are there.
Sixth, Huckabee’s performance at the Value Voters summit seems to have reshaped the moral conservative field. The contrast between his authenticity and Romney’s phoniness seems to have stopped Romney’s forward momentum among the interest group leaders here. But can he execute? Attacks on Romney’s credibility and religion only get so far without GRPs. But … if no one else really contests Iowa, is there any chance that Huckabee could out-perform Romney? I mean… if that were really the ballot choice (yeah, I know, it isn’t a ballot), doesn’t Huckabee win?
Seventh, can Huckabee, after doing well in Iowa, go to South Carolina and say "vote for me to give social conservatives a seat at the table"? Isn’t that his strategy? Or does he have a Michigan strategy, echoing economic populist themes like he did in Dearborn?
This is unsettled. It is plausible that the story out of Iowa is Huckabee. And the story out of New Hampshire is McCain. Michigan is a jump ball. Rudy could come in 2nd in all of these. Romney could be in first in all of these. There are just a lot of moving parts.