Spoiler alert: If you want to wait to find out what’s going to happen to the GOP candidates in the upcoming political season, do not read the following post.

Iowa Caucus: Romney is very likely to win Iowa. Polling for the Iowa Republican caucus is pretty tricky, because it’s not a primary, and doesn’t bear much resemblance to a standard election. Romney leads among those who have hitherto participated in the Iowa Republican caucus. Among “likely caucus voters” (a broader group, and a very tricky group to define) Huckabee’s lead ranges from 2% (well within the margin of error) to 8%.

It’s going to come down to organization. Romney’s been building an organization in Iowa for years. Huckabee’s campaign is a grass-roots movement — think Howard Dean. When the rubber hits the road, Romney will pull out a victory.

Wyoming Convention: Romney is quite likely to win at the Wyoming convention, but this may not even make the news.

New Hampshire Primary: After the victory in Iowa, Romney will win New Hampshire easily. This will eliminate everyone but Giuliani (de facto if not de jure), reducing the contest for the Republican presidential nomination to a two man-race.

If Romney Loses the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary: Contrary to conventional wisdom, if Romney loses Iowa and New Hampshire, he’s still in the game. So long as he does well enough in both states to avoid elimination, he can outlast Huckabee. Huckabee will inevitably peter out, since it’s too late for him to raise sufficient funds and create a strong organization. Because others will be eliminated by the earlier caucuses, and because Romney will be the beneficiary of their eliminations, Romney can still win Navada and South Carolina, which puts him in a very good position for Florida. If Romney can’t win a single primary in January, stick a fork in him.

Huckabee’s Rise: Huckabee’s rise has helped Romney in the following ways:

  1. Huckabee’s rise has recast the GOP race to one that is Romney vs. Huckabee, instead of Giuliani (the frontrunner) against everyone else. This sidelining of Giuliani has boosted Romney nationwide. The Romney vs. Huckabee headlines invite people to compare Romney to Huckabee — a comparison that flatters Romney much more than the comparison to Guiliani; Romney is vastly more presidential and more credible than Huckabee, but about even with Giuliani.
  2. Huckabee’s rise has made Romney appear to be the underdog in Iowa. I consider it likely that some (probably a significant fraction) of McCain’s and Thomspon’s supporters are frightened by Huckabee; cf. the treatment of Huckabee at the hands of conservative publications The National Review and The Weekly Standard. Look for Romney to outdo the polling numbers due to McCain and Thompson supporters who jump ship to vote for Romney to avert a Huckabee victory.
  3. Romney’s victory in Iowa will make him appear battle-tested, and therefore more credible.

After New Hampshire: After New Hampshire is Nevada, South Carolina, and Florida. These are all January contests, but it’s still too early to predict what will happen once the earlier contests eliminate the residue of failed candidates and thereby force voters, conventioneers, and caucus participants to fall behind one of two candidates. But by the end of January, it should be obvious who will win on Super Tuesday (February 5th).

Bonus Analysis: Romney’s Mormon Speech: Romney’s Mormon speech was a home run. It invites comparison to Kennedy’s speech, so here’s mine:

Kennedy’s speech was awful. It was dominated by responses to specific accusations against him by virtue of his Catholicism, and it was well outside the tradition of great American political rhetoric. Kennedy’s speech is spoken of in hallowed tones — in spite of its mediocrity — for two reasons: First, because some questionable results in Illinois handed him a tight, if not unearned, victory. Second, because Lee Harvey Oswald secured Kennedy’s place in history, in spite of the fact that he was a second-tier president at best. The speech does not stand on its own; if Kennedy had lost the election, or if he had survived to face reëlection, then nobody would talk about it. If Romney wins the election, history will view Romney’s speech as the speech that Kennedy should have made, even if Romney doesn’t get assassinated.

Romney’s speech, by comparison, was a brilliant expression of the American politico-religious tradition. Sure, it exclude atheists, but until atheism as a movement produces anything akin to the enlightenment or free-market capitalism, individual atheists who want to do anything really important will have continue to participate mostly the movements or institutions created by religionists, just as David Hume and Bertrand Russell did (I say this as a former atheist and recovering non-believer).

Contrary to the analysis of most pundits, the purpose of the speech was not to persuade evangelicals. This would have ensured failure. Furthermore, it was not the primary purpose of the speech to change headlines, though that was certainly a beneficial side-effect. The purpose of the speech was to reframe the way that the press addressed Romney’s Mormonism, and it has worked. This has a much stronger impact on how voters view Romney’s religion and religiosity than anything that Romney can say himself.