AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Does It Matter Who Finishes Second in Iowa?

With less than 36 hours before the start of the Iowa caucuses, the final Des Moines Register poll is out — and Donald Trump still has a massive lead going into the event. 

Trump has the support of 48% of the caucusgoers, while Nikki Haley is a distant second with 20%. Ron DeSantis has faded into third place with just 16% of the vote. 

The winter storm moving through the area dumped several inches of snow on the roads, which is nothing Iowans can’t handle. The worry is the extreme cold that has settled over the Midwest, making travel hazardous. No one, not even hearty Iowans, likes to go outside when it’s 10 or 15 below zero. 

How that affects turnout is a crapshoot.

With Trump far ahead in Iowa, ahead in New Hampshire and Nevada, and ahead in Haley’s home state of South Carolina, one has to ask: Does it matter who finishes second in any of those states?

What matters in any of these early races is a candidate exceeding expectations. Eventually, expectations won’t matter as Trump’s lead in the delegate count grows. But until that happens, Haley or DeSantis has the opportunity to do better than expected and move the needle a bit.

Contrarily, if Trump falls short of expectations, what do you suppose the media reaction will be? For example, if Trump fails to reach 50% on Monday night, is that a failure? Of course not. But that’s how the media will spin it. 

Fox News:

The new poll is the second straight survey in Iowa to indicate Haley ahead of DeSantis, following a Suffolk University poll that was released a few days ago. But her advantage over DeSantis in the new survey is within the sampling error. 

And poll indicates that just nine percent of Haley supporters are extremely enthusiastic about her White House bid, which was much lower than enthusiasm among those backing Trump and DeSantis.

The survey, conducted by longtime pollster Ann Selzer, has a well-earned tradition of accuracy in past GOP presidential caucuses, and is considered by many as the gold standard in Iowa polling.

Caucuses are a test of organizational strength as campaigns try to wrangle as many voters to the caucus sites as possible. On a night with subzero temperatures and the race already decided, some caucusgoers might think better of going outside, especially if they’re not that enthusiastic about their choice.

Des Moines Register:

Just 9% of Haley’s supporters say they are extremely enthusiastic about her candidacy, down from 21% in December, while another 30% say they are very enthusiastic. In the new poll, nearly half of Haley supporters say they are mildly enthusiastic (49%) and 12% say they are not that enthusiastic.  Among Trump, DeSantis and Haley, her dougle-digit “not that enthusiastic” finding is the highest for any Iowa Poll this caucus cycle.

Would you go outside in sub-zero weather and drive your car to the caucuses, just to vote for someone you are “mildly enthusiastic” about?

The only chance that Haley and DeSantis have is for either of them to finish second and then hope for a Trump stumble or a breakthrough victory in one of the other early-voting states. Otherwise, by the time they get any traction, Trump will have an insurmountable delegate lead and they might as well quit.

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