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Iowa Caucuses: 2016 Opening Odds

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The main event is finally here. The race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination is now underway.

This is shaping up to be the strongest field of Republican challengers in recent memory. After the GOP’s strong showing in the 2014 midterms, the list of those who sense an opportunity , and want to seize it to run in 2016, is both long and distinguished. While the Democrat presidential primary is essentially Hillary Clinton (their 2008 also-ran) or bust, the Republicans have a deep bench of potential standard-bearers.

But there can only be one nominee.

Living in the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa affords me the opportunity to get to know presidential candidates and/or their staff on a first-name basis. Often, they or their associates will reach out to Iowans like myself in advance of running in order to get the lay of the land. Also, the fact that I know many of the key activists and players in the state provides me the access to make keen observations and prescient predictions.

For example, I was one of the early supporters of Mike Huckabee back in 2008, who went on to win those caucuses. In 2012, I correctly predicted the top five finishers, in order, in the Iowa Straw Poll. Last spring, I correctly predicted the order of finish in Iowa’s contested GOP Senate primary and 3rd District Congressional primary. This fall, I correctly predicted the outcome of our governor’s race (I only missed the final percentages by one point), our U.S. Senate race, each of our congressional races, and how many seats the GOP would end up with in the state legislature.

My secret is not a magic eight ball or an oracle at Delphi. It’s doing my homework, knowing the key players and making predictions based on what that information tells me will happen. Not what I want to happen, which is what most people do.

Though it may seem early to some to already be posting odds on the Iowa Caucuses, keep in mind we are less than 14 months away from Iowans casting the first official ballots of the 2016 presidential election. Below are my opening odds and why, on each potential 2016 GOP candidate. I will update these periodically for readers between now and caucus night.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee: 2-1
The former caucus champion is the opening favorite because he has two things going for him that matter in Iowa — he’s socially conservative and Iowans like him.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: 4-1
He has the backing of the activists and has the best chance to put the long-dormant Reagan coalition back together again.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: 5-1
He’s a repeated winner in a blue state, and has enough establishment and conservative credentials to put the George W. Bush coalition from 2000 back together again.

Dr. Ben Carson: 10-1
He already has a campaign chairman in each of Iowa’s 99 counties, and Iowans ask me about his potential candidacy more than any other. There are a lot of people who want Dr. Carson to sell them on his bid.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul: 15-1
His father’s Iowa coalition is diminishing for several reasons that would take another column to flesh out. He’s also facing some competition from Mr. Cruz for liberty voters, and he is struggling to make any gains with the state’s large bloc of evangelicals.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum: 20-1
The reigning Iowa Caucus champ faces substantial competition for his base with Mr. Huckabee’s re-emergence, because much of Mr. Santorum’s earnest support in Iowa came from Mr. Huckabee’s former base. Several of those people have already moved back to Mr. Huckabee now that it’s clear he’s running this time.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal: 25-1
Iowans really like Mr. Jindal, and he could be a lot of people’s second choice. Which can set you up for a dark-horse run in a typical caucus environment.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio: 30-1
The Gang of 8 amnesty fiasco continues to haunt Mr. Rubio. However, he is still articulate, likable and fairly conservative. Like Scott Walker, he’s got some establishment and conservative street cred, and his odds would substantially increase if Walker declined to run for some reason.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence: 30-1
I’m told he’d like to run, and he’d also have some establishment/conservative support similar to Mr. Walker and Mr. Rubio. However, the political calendar conspires against him, because he’s not even through a full-term as Indiana governor yet.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich: 50-1
If I had posted these odds a month ago, Mr. Kasich wouldn’t have even been listed. But when you win what is historically the most important battle ground state for Republicans with more than 60 percent of the vote, you definitely become a candidate.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry: 50-1
Iowans are more fond of him now than they were in 2012, but he doesn’t really have a place in the race as of yet. He’s not as charming as Mr. Huckabee, as conservative as Mr. Cruz, he’s not a minority and he doesn’t represent an emerging faction like Mr. Rand. He’s also failed to maintain the momentum of the border crisis that made him a national political star briefly last summer.

Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan: 75-1
Some in the establishment here like him, but with Walker, Rubio, and Kasich also vying for that support he comes up short. He doesn’t have Walker’s record (and Walker overshadows him in his own state), Rubio’s charisma, or Kasich’s claim to electability.

Businessman Donald Trump: 100-1
He has had substantive conversations with key Iowans I know about running, and there’s no doubting he’s a star. But until he starts laying the serious groundwork of a campaign it’s hard to give him better odds.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: 500-1
I don’t know anybody in Iowa who has proven they can move Iowa Caucus numbers who is lining up to jump on his bandwagon. Mr. Christie is a liberal Republican like Rudy Giuliani was, but doesn’t possess Mr. Giuliani’s winsome persona. His bullying demeanor also doesn’t mix well with “Iowa Nice.”

Off the Board: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush
He has made no serious attempt to play in Iowa, and at best seems to be playing the role of Hamlet (“to be or not to be”) about running at all. Until he starts getting serious, there’s no point in laying odds on him.

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