“If he wins both, the image that it’s over will be hard to shake,” says Cal Jillson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. The media will be full of stories about how no one who is not already president has ever pulled off the one-two punch.
But if Romney wins Iowa with a small plurality, that will give hope to the also-rans. And there’s no indication that Romney can win Iowa going away, because of continuing reservations over his moderate image, policy flip-flops, and Mormonism.
Also, the caucus format favors the most enthusiastic voters, as it requires attending an evening-long event at an appointed time, unlike a primary. The NBC-Marist poll shows Romney has less “strong support” (51 percent of his voters) than the surging Rick Santorum (59 percent), Paul (54 percent), and Rick Perry (52 percent).
So if Romney wins Iowa, it is likely to be with a low plurality – perhaps even with the same 25 percent he won in his second-place finish four years ago. Chances are Paul won’t be far behind. And Mr. Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, could surprise both.