No matter how you look at it, Iowa remains extremely close. According to Pollster.com, Clinton, Edwards and Obama are all trending upward. According to Real Clear Politics, Obama is trending down, Clinton slightly up, and Edwards more noticeably up. Depending on who you look at, either Clinton and Obama are tied with Edwards slightly behind, or Clinton is slightly behind with Edwards and Obama tied. However, even though Edwards is not leading according to either polling outfit, Edwards does lead among second-place choices, which could give him a key edge once caucusing begins. In short, any of the top three candidates could finish anywhere in the top three once all is said and done.
In a campaign this close, the deciding factor might very well be what deals the different campaigns can make with each other. In the event they fail to reach the 15% threshold in any given precinct, every campaign will probably instruct the local campaign precinct captain to caucus for a single, different candidate. The candidate who is able to scoop up the most of these second-place endorsements will probably win the caucus.
So, which candidate is each campaign likely to endorse as second place choices? In the extended entry, I offer some quick thoughts on the subject.
Edwards and Obama
Given that neither Obama nor Edwards can afford a Clinton victory in Iowa, it seems highly unlikely to me that either campaign will instruct their precinct captains to go with Clinton as a second-place choice. However, they are also competing against each other, it also seems unlikely to me that the Edwards campaign would go with Obama, or that the Obama campaign would go with Edwards, unless there is a mutual agreement to endorse each other. Such a deal might make sense for both campaigns, since Edwards and Obama are stronger in different areas of the state and since it would probably send Clinton into a third place finish. Then again, if, for example, Edwards was able to secure a Richardson deal, or Obama was able to secure a Biden deal, then it wouldn't make sense for the campaign without any other deals to enter into a mutual Obama-Edwards agreement. The campaign with the second deal would probably then cruise to victory, and the campaign without a second deal would be left holding the bag.
If Clinton can score a deal with either Edwards or Obama, her campaign should take it and not look back. Her strength is probably more evenly spread across the state than any other campaign's, and so any deal with what I imagine is the more regionally based Obama and Edwards campaigns would probably benefit her. However, I think such a deal is unlikely, because Edwards and Obama both need Clinton to stumble in Iowa, and as such are not planning on helping her. So, Clinton needs to look to one of the smaller campaigns. Kucinich is probably a dead-end, and I also don't think Dodd would really work for Clinton either, what with his comments on Clinton's high negatives. However, Biden has never really criticized Clinton, and their supporters feel like a natural fit. Also, Clinton has made some noise about selecting Richardson as a VP, and his long resume might compliment her argument for President. I bet Biden and Richardson are her campaign's two top targets, and I wouldn't be surprised if her campaign announces a deal with either.
Well, he struck a deal with Edwards last time, so why not again? Seems to make sense.
His campaign has overwhelmingly focused on residual forces, so I imagine he would go with the top-tier candidate who is closest to him on that position. From where I sit, that is Edwards.
I can't imagine he would go with Obama, given earlier foot in the mouth moments on that front. My feeling is that Clinton makes the most sense for his campaign.
Dodd is the hardest one to read, in my opinion. However, if forced to guess, my feeling is that he would lean toward Obama, Mainly, this is because I have everyone else leaning toward either Edwards or Clinton. Someone has to lean toward Obama.
It is probably too bad that after a year of campaigning, everything could come down to the deals the campaigns make with each other. Then again, if winning Iowa requires making more deals than your opponent, perhaps it is also a test of who can get more passed in Congress once s/he becomes President.