Iowa takes the political spotlight

The Iowa caucuses take place tomorrow.  What’s fascinating about this often-called “irrelevant” stop on the Republican primary parade is that it may end up highly significant if not decisive for the current field of candidates.

That’s because the Iowa caucus vote is threatening to turn the Republican primary battle from chaos to calmness.  If the results line up with the polls at the moment, the most competitive candidate against the President – Mitt Romney – may come out victorious.  Ron Paul seems likely to finish a solid second, perhaps even win.  A number of weaker candidates, including Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry, appear to have badly faded, while Rick Santorum appears to have consolidated his hold on the evangelical vote.  And the Newt Gingrich fireworks display has dimmed in the light of day.

Going into New Hampshire, Romney could actually consolidate his hold on the nomination and coast all the way to the convention.  After months of confusion, the Republicans have begun to look controlled and focused.  For awhile there, they almost seemed like Democrats in their chaos and confusion.  And while some polls have Romney in a dead heat for the lead with Paul and Santorum, the large percentage of undecided voters (approximately 40 percent according to the most recent polling) may well break for the candidate who many seem to believe has the best chance to win in November – Mitt Romney.

Iowa hardly seems like the ideal setting to clarify the Republican situation, but it may turn out to be just that.  The pundits say that Iowa’s population is not representative of the nation as a whole and that the caucus process doesn’t even represent the typical Republican voter.  But this has been a hard-fought primary with enough lead changes to satisfy even a horse race fan.  The drama surrounding Newt Gingrich’s remarkable up and down performance, the re-surfacing a Rick Santorum, and the Ron Paul wave have made Iowa more than it might have been, and have made the results significant.

Iowa’s first-in-the-nation position may have gained some relevance this year.  Its Republican caucus-goers won’t be surprised.