The GOP Ames straw poll is tomorrow, which means that it must be time to make bold and foolish predictions. The outcome will probably not be taken very seriously by most observers because of the absence of three of the four supposedly major contenders, but here are my slightly educated guesses anyway.
Romney will win a plurality, but it will be embarrassingly weak when compared with his massive advantages over the second-tier candidates in fundraising, organisation and name recognition. Let’s say that he manages a not-so-respectable 30%. Ron Paul will fare reasonably well, pulling in maybe 15-18%, and I think he probably will claim the second spot in what will be a fairly divided field. Tommy Thompson will actually do much better than his dreadful debate performances and otherwise horrible national campaign would lead you to think. He will manage 12-15%, but not the 20% he hopes to get. He will probably drop out after this. Brownback is making his big push here, and if he can’t make it in Iowa he can’t make it anywhere. I’ll guess that he gets 10-12%, which will be enough to keep his campaign alive, but it will also show how limited his appeal is in what ought to be a natural environment for him. Huckabee keeps making a good impression on voters in every debate, but he doesn’t translate this into much actual support. He will probably scrounge together 8-10%. Tancredo might manage 5%, and Hunter could get a smattering of support, maybe 3-5%. Both of these candidates, while excellent on many things, seem to have gone nowhere all year. They have both said they will stay in regardless of the result tomorrow, so we can expect them to be around at least through New Hampshire.
Assuming Thompson is out after this, where will his supporters go? They seem likely to drift towards either Huckabee or Romney. The straw poll will give some indication of the strength (or lack thereof) of the Romney campaign, but will be of little use in predicting what happens in the caucus when the other three major candidates get into the mix. All of those three have certainly damaged their appeal in Iowa by ignoring Ames, but perhaps not fatally (except for McCain, whose campaign is already dead).