We are now a mere hours away from when the presidential primary season truly begins as the Iowa caucuses begin tomorrow. For some of us, we’ve been tracking the polls and keeping our ear to the ground for the better part of a year, and like so many others who get so invested in political machinations, I have gone back and forth with the tiniest bit of news as though a single headline truly could irreparably sway the final outcome. Unlike all those times in months past, however, we are now in the season where said headline truly could shift the momentum of the races. “Obama wins Iowa,” could wrest the Clinton machine’s once clinched nomination out of her clasp, while, “McCain pulls upset in New Hampshire,” could put the Straight Talk Express back on track.

I know this is probably the worst time for a political blogger to be on vacation, but never fear, I am putting my vacation on hold for at least one day in order to keep you up to snuff on Iowa.

As we look to Iowa, we see the race on both sides of the fence embroiled in a topsy turvy slobber knocker. For the Republicans, the Huckster has come out of nowhere in recent weeks with a surprise surge of support to overtake Mitt Romney who had spent months laying surprisingly strong groundwork in the early states. For the Democrats, the Clinton campaign’s lack of Iowa politics acumen has led to it being the only state Hillary couldn’t establish a strong and stable lead as the pre-season headed into the homestretch. As a result, most polls show Clinton, Obama, and Edwards in a statistical dead heat.

With as close as things are, it’s difficult to make predictions, but sometimes, you have to lay it on the line, so that’s what I’m going to do.

On the Republican side of the house, Huck’s surge, as incomprehensible as it might seem to some, has come on strong and made the Governor from Arkansas a force to be reckoned with in middle America.  Still, Mitt’s ground game in the early states has been phenomenal, making this the match up to watch tomorrow.  Personally, I think Mitt’s put the time into the thing, but I think it unlikely that it’s going to pay off for him in Iowa.  It’s going to depend on how crazy the caucuses get.  Huck’s got the momentum and the buzz, which means that upfront he’s the favorite walking into Iowa, but since Mitt’s got the organization on the ground, he’s got the upper hand in a prolonged event.   As a result, I think if Iowa turns out to be quick and clean, it goes to Huckabee, if not, Mitt’s going to come out victorious.

Since the Iowa caucuses have a reputation of getting crazy, I think Mitt’s got a decent chance of walking away with this by the skin of his teeth.  Even if he doesn’t, though, and Huck does walk away with the win, I’m still not ready to say that Huckabee will eventually be the nominee.  He’s got Mitt’s ground game to contend with through the next two early states, both of which have failed to catch the wave quite like Iowa, and he’s got McCain’s good press to contend with in New Hampshire, and Thompson’s home court advantage to deal with in South Carolina.

To this end, while it may seem like the odds are currently kind of stacked against him, I think Mitt will probably thread the needle and come out of this whole mess the nominee.  I will of course, amend this as we get more primaries under our belt.

For the Democrats, things are even zanier as we have what looks like at the surface a three way tie in Iowa between Clinton, Obama, and Edwards.  I don’t, however, think Clinton’s going to take Iowa; she hasn’t buzz, momentum, enthusiasm, or even good headlines to help usher her into a clear advantage.  Keep in mind, Iowan’s caucus in public, and I think you’re going to see significantly more enthusiasm from the Obama and Edwards groups, and that’s going to rob some of Clinton’s support.

Which makes this an Obama vs. Edwards race.  On Edward’s side, headlines the final few days before the caucus have been kind to him, and I think he enjoys a labor/populist/demographic advantage over Obama.  On the other hand, polling trends clearly nod towards Obama, and there’s that Iowan mentality to keep in mind.  Remember, Iowans don’t take too easily to negative campaigning, and Edwards has been one of the more antagonistic campaigners through the course of the preseason.

Thus, while Obama seems to have the momentum, the buzz seems to go to Edwards, making this contest particularly close to call.  This is going to go to whomever has the best ground game in Iowa, but I think Obama has a slight advantage.  If Obama wins Iowa, I think he’s got a good chance at sweeping the early three, and that’s going to put him in astoundingly good position to take the nomination.  He’s not going to take the board, but you’re going to see a lot of states flip, and while he may lose New York, he’ll win California.

If, on the other hand, Edwards wins, things are going to get tricky.  Edwards doesn’t have a shot in either New Hampshire nor in South Carolina, and Clinton holds narrow leads in both states with some polls showing Obama pulling even or overtaking her.  If Obama wants to stay in this race, if he loses Iowa, he has to take New Hampshire.  If he doesn’t, he’s going to fall in South Carolina as well, and Clinton will end up being the nominee.  On the other hand, if he does win in New Hampshire, that’s going to put South Carolina in play, but he’s still going to have to face an uphill battle in order to wrench it from Clinton’s control.  In other words, in order for Clinton to not be the nominee, I think Obama has to win a minimum of two out of the three early state primaries.

I don’t think Edwards has a viable path to the nomination.

So, what I think is a risky but possible prediction on the eve of the primaries is the General Election will be Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney.

Of course, it’s more than possible that I will be wrong, which is the last thing I will address before I take up the keyboard again tomorrow evening.

The odds on favorite for the Democratic nomination is of course Hillary Clinton.  Now, some time ago, I did write that if she did win the nomination I would hold my nose and still cast my vote for her.  This is me; I’m a Democrat after all, and I have a history of supporting the party, and cutting them breaks.

I’ve never been the guy to condone or look favorably upon those who cast protest votes, or don’t vote at all in protest.  Especially in swing states.  This puts me in a strange position considering the fact that I think Virginia will be in play come November, and for the first time in a long time, my vote might actually account for something.

I say this because if Hillary Clinton ends up being the Democratic party’s nominee for the presidency, I will not cast my vote for her as a means of protest.  I have already endorsed Barack Obama, and of course would vote for him.  John Edwards, while far from my first, or even second choice, still I believe holds true to certain progressive values, and I would feel comfortable voting for him as well.

Hillary, on the other hand, strikes me as a Republican in Democrat’s clothing, and I think if nothing else, the failures of the Democratic leadership since they have taken back Congress has shown that such persons are the last people who should be rewarded within our party.  I agree with Obama because his “big table” concept nods to my more pragmatic sensibilities, and ultimately I think will take us a step in the right direction; a direction back to the path we have long since strayed from, away from the partisan warfare that has degraded our republic, and towards civil debate not unlike the education debate I’m having with Mark over at Publius Endures (and which I can’t wait to conclude when I return from vacation).   He may not necessarily always sound like a progressive, but I think it’s important to note that in order to further a progressive agenda, the root of that label needs to be considered.  Progress.  In a world where political battle lines can halt even the simplest of ideas, I think Barack Obama is the best suited to create progress for progressives.

I also find myself agreeing with John Edwards on a few things, and so would gladly vote for him if that’s what it came down to.  He is, to be sure, much more in line with the traditional liberal/progressive ideology than the other two front runners.  But his problem, for me, is that he is far too aggressive and standoffish.  To me, being a true progressive requires progress, and I don’t think there will be much to be had in an Edwards administration.  Progress requires choosing wisely your battles, and Edwards has ran his campaign in such a way to make me believe that he would wage heavily every battle in a take no prisoners bloodbath.  Keep in mind, it was this mentality employed by Hillary Clinton in the nineties that took universal health care off the table for at least fifteen years.

For those things we need to stop based on our principals, yes, you fight, and you fight hard.  There should be no equivocating; torture should be forever put to death in our means of dealing with detainees in the War on Terror, and the neoconservative foreign policy must go the way of the do-do.  But for those programs that we wish to create, for those dreams and ideals that we attempt to cultivate into fruition, prudence and caution must be observed.  For healthcare, gay rights, Social Security solvency, education reform, and so on and so forth, we must tread with care lest those who oppose our ideals stuff them down and bury them until future generations have the courage to dig them back up again.

I don’t think Edwards will temper his zeal with the necessary measure of caution, and thus while he may be more progressive than his frontrunner colleagues, he may further endanger both the Democratic control of the White House, but also the progressive agenda.

Which leaves us with Hillary.  I simply don’t think she is anything but a moderate Republican with neoconservative tendencies.  What is worse is that she can’t be honest about it.  She promises to end US participation in the Iraq war if Bush doesn’t in her stump speech, but closer examination shows she won’t follow through.  She won’t raise taxes to shore up SocSec funding because she doesn’t want to burden the middle class, but this comes straight out of the Republican playbook on taxes.  Anti-tax Republicans have painted every tax as a pox upon the middle class and small business owners whether the tax was or not.  This is, after all, how the estate tax became the death tax.  Clinton’s claim is not all that different, after all, the payroll tax increases Clinton fights so gallantly against would only affect those making over 96,000 dollars a year, or the top 6%.  That’s a strange definition of the middle class.

The bottom line is simply this.  I don’t trust a single thing that Clinton says.  I don’t think she would make a strong president, and she actually represents the worst of both worlds.  She is iconic when it comes to modern partisan warfare, and has no chance of bridging gaps or repairing the state of political debate in this country.  Barring that, she can’t even lay claim to a truly progressive agenda.

And so here I am.  On the even of the Iowan caucuses, and my decision is final, should Clinton win the nomination, I will not vote for her.  We’ve had enough of her kind of leadership, and electing her to the White House would only be rewarding that kind of Democrat.  I think it is important to send a message to the party; we will no longer accept these Republican Lite politicians who promise us progressive agendas, but only deliver Republican successes.  I’ve had enough.

But with luck, and the good sense first of Iowans, and Democrats throughout the nation, I won’t have to stay home in protest.

See you tomorrow.

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