As Republican voters gathered across Iowa for the state's first-in-the-nation caucuses, the International Business Times spoke with Jamie Chandler, a political scientist at Hunter College in New York, about who will win, who will drop out and what different outcomes would mean as the primary season continues.
Be sure to read IBTimes' interview with Fordham University political scientist Costas Panagopoulos as well, and check back throughout the evening for more breaking news and analysis out of Iowa.
IBTimes: Most polls in the past few days have shown Mitt Romney and Ron Paul statistically tied, with Romney slightly ahead. Who do you think will win?
Chandler: Despite the statistical tie, it's more likely Ron Paul will win. Historically, Iowa Republican caucus-goers choose candidates who are more ideologically pure than the eventual nominee. Circumstances are in Paul's favor because he has consistently remained on message, spent a lot of time campaigning in the state, and has a growing tide of supporters.
IBTimes: Can you see any other candidate placing in the top two?
Chandler: It's possible that Romney could come in a very close third behind [Rick] Santorum. The surge that has buoyed Santorum's campaign over the last few days could bring real benefits to him at the caucus meetings tonight. Moreover, Santorum seems to be consolidating the evangelical vote, which accounted for a large share of the caucus votes cast in 2008. Only Romney, Santorum and Paul have a shot at the top two places. Bachmann and Perry will likely be out of the race after tonight, and Huntsman is biding his time until New Hampshire. Gingrich's campaign is still in play if he performs well in the South Carolina and Florida primaries.
IBTimes: If Santorum manages to surpass Romney for second place, how much of a boost would that give him going into subsequent primaries?
Chandler: A first- or second-place finish for Santorum won't propel him into contention for the nomination. Iowa is replete with evangelical voters and that is driving his high poll numbers, but outside of that, he has very low support from voters nationally. He hasn't allocated enough campaign resources and his record of making offensive remarks will keep him at the bottom of the heap, particularly in New Hampshire, where Republicans are much more moderate than average. With only a week between the [Iowa] caucus and New Hampshire primary, and without having built a strong national campaign organization, Santorum won't be able to capitalize on the momentum.
IBTimes: You said last week that Santorum, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry would drop out after Iowa. That was before Santorum surged. Do you still think he will drop out? How high would he have to finish in Iowa to justify continuing his campaign?
Chandler: If Santorum performs as expected tonight, he will probably stay in the race at least until the South Carolina primary, but after that, his campaign will not be able to support [the] weekly, multi-state primary campaigns that fill the calendar through June. Santorum's primary role in this season has been to keep Christian conservative issues on the agenda. He'll could run a light campaign to play that role until Super Tuesday, but if the eventual nominee emerges before that, there would be little value for Santorum to continue. Media coverage will focus on the nominee and the party will pressure any remaining candidates to drop out so as to shift the focus of the campaign onto the president.
IBTimes: If Romney wins Iowa, how significant is that for his campaign? If he goes on to win New Hampshire as well, do you see anyone challenging him for the nomination?
Chandler: It's much more important for Romney to win New Hampshire than Iowa. The Iowa caucus results don't have a strong track record for predicting who the eventual nominee will be. New Hampshire, on the other hand, gives the winner a huge boost. Historically, the winner of the New Hampshire primary gains so many fundraising, media and momentum advantages that by the end of the primary, the candidate has about a 27 percent greater share of delegate votes than the candidate in second.
IBTimes: If Paul wins Iowa, do you think he can challenge Romney in New Hampshire?
Chandler: Paul has a much better shot at beating Romney in the New Hampshire primary than Santorum or Gingrich. Although much of the recent political analysis on Paul has been focused on his more ideological positions, he has built a strong national campaign organization and is polling well in a number of states, [and] he is also consistently on message, all of which indicate strong electability qualities.
IBTimes: Newt Gingrich has fallen into fourth and even fifth place in some Iowa polls, and he has acknowledged that he is unlikely to win the caucuses. Could he recover from a fourth- or fifth-place finish?
Chandler: It's too late for Gingrich to recover from a fourth- or fifth-place Iowa finish, and it's not likely he will win the New Hampshire primary, as Mitt Romney has been polling around 40 percent there since the summer. South Carolina is the make-or-break-it race for Gingrich. If he doesn't win there on Jan. 21, he'll be out of the race.