I've got a bunch of friends in Iowa reporting out the race, and the storylines I've heard from them all are:
– Hillary Clinton has the smartest people in the Democratic primary working for her, and if it wasn't for them she'd already be out of this.
– Ron Paul's organization is tight and energetic, and they're turning out all their caucusgoers.
– Fred Thompson's campaign events have been small and sluggish.
– Barack Obama headed off an Edwards surge as some of the second-tier candidates told their supporters to back him as their second choices. (In the Democratic race, if your candidate doesn't get 15 percent of the room you caucus for someone else.)
– Democratic excitement is palpable. Republican excitement is non-existent.
Based on that, my incredibly safe predictions:
Democrats (final votes, including second choices)
Barack Obama 32
John Edwards 30
Hillary Clinton 27
Joe Biden 5
Bill Richardson 4
The others 2
Mitt Romney 31
Mike Huckabee 29
Ron Paul 13
John McCain 11
Fred Thompson 9
Rudy Giuliani 5
The others 4
Of course, no one is watching all the candidates. It's all about the storylines for Obama, Clinton, Romney, Huckabee, and McCain. The only way Paul breaks into the headlines is if he beats the allegedly surging McCain and Thompson, although a McCain loss would be brushed off and a Thompson loss portrayed as the end of his campaign. (Reporters seem to be craving a McCain win in New Hampshire, for the amazing comeback story as much as anything.)
Post your predictions or gossip in the comments. I'll be at Murphy's Taproom in Manchester watching the caucues with a very optimistic Paul crowd, and will be liveblogging from there.
UPDATE: Liveblogging, commence!
8:30: Nestled in at the bar and talking to Paulites who are restlessly catching CNN harp on the Democratic race. They liked an "entrance poll" that showed Hillary up: "She's the easiest to beat."
8:32: This must be the only Republican party that's tuned in to CNN and not Fox News. I'm listening more to the exit poll questions than the miniscule precinct results. Huge female turnout sounds good for Clinton while the fact that voters prioritized "change" over "experience" sounds good for Obama… and the low percentage of independent voters sounds bad for Obama. I'm not hearing as much about the GOP…
8:38: A lot of derision here at the way CNN is leaving a big white pie piece in the chart where the Ron Paul, Rudy Giuliani, and Duncan Hunter vote should be.
8:48: More data, finally, and Paul's at 10 percent: A lot of relieved cheers at this party. But CNN is still showing that blank piece. As to the Democrats, Kos reports that the early counties are rural John Edwards counties, which bodes really poorly for him—he's in a dead heat as the Clinton and Obama counties start to come in.
8:50: From the party: "We can come in eleventy-millionth place as long as we beat Giuliani!" They're screaming and clapping whenever a county result shows Paul clobbering Rudy.
8:56: CNN projects a Huckabee victory. There are some quiet boos and yells of "Huuuckster!"
9:04: There's gloating about Romney's defeat ("All those millions! His poor kids!") and a few cheers when Obama pulls ahead of Hillary and Edwards. I ask a "hard-right Republican" named Pete why he cheered. "I just want the crime family out of there," he says, referring to the Clintons. "Obama's a hard lefty but as long as we don't have the Clintons running we can have a battle of ideas. We can talk about the Constitution."
9:20: If the Democratic results keep up—Clinton literally tied with Edwards but only margin-of-error tied with Obama—it doesn't exactly look like a three way tie. It looks like a clear Obama win.
9:27: And NBC News calls for Obama. This is better for him than it is for Huckabee—Hillary and Edwards are so bunched up he can declare his victory before they can claim second place.
9:36: I'm uncomfortable predicting too much when the GOP race for third is so close, but I think McCain has little to worry about even if he slips behind Ron Paul. Romney is utterly humiliated: I'm going to have to check out one of his New Hampshire events to see how many advance men it takes to prop up his corpse. This is the expectation game. It doesn't matter that Romney doubled McCain's vote, it mattered that McCain was able to strut onstage and make fun of his effort to "buy the election."
9:39: People who won't be vice president: Tom Vilsack, the former governor of Iowa whose mighty operation was enough to win the Democratic frontrunner third place. Also Ted Strickland, the governor of Ohio who trashed the Iowa caucuses to a reporter merely days ago. People who might be: Bill Richardson and Joe Biden, for handing their votes to Obama. (So did Kucinich but his nomination as VP is less likely, let's say.)
9:46: Huge catcalls for Giuliani when he arrives on CNN (his reward for losing to Ron Paul?): A voice behind me blares "Fuck you, fucker!" And there's some grumbling about how Wolf Blitzer referred to Paul's 7,800 votes as "seven thousand" and Giuliani's 2,700 as "almost three thousand."
9:55: The Paul party is sort of starting to disperse. A key hope of the volunteers is dying tonight: The hope that there were thousands of voters who the polls were missing but would turn out for Paul. He's only winning as many votes as the polls suggested he would. So he's set to keep scoring high single digits or low double digits unless something incredible happens—maybe Newt Gingrich enters the race, quits, and endorses Paul on the way out.
9:58: Just as I typed that I joined a conversation on Paul's percentage, already in progress. "I was hoping for 15, 17 percent" said a Pittsburgh volunteer named Bill. Frank, a campaign worker who came here with Operation Live Free or Die, is more optimistic: "That much of the Republican vote, that's Perot territory." Dun-dun-dun-dunnnnn.
10:04: I'm by no means the first person to say this, but here's the key difference between the parties tonight. Half of Democrats look at this picture and feel neutral; half of them look at it and feel elated. Half of Republicans look at his picture and feel worried; one-quarter feel enraged; one-quarter are happy, but it's that bitter, Kurt Russell dropping the truck on the bad guy in Breakdown kind of happy. If they weren't Christians they'd be flipping the bird.
10:24: No surprise, John Edwards tried to steal some Obama thunder by proclaiming "a victory over the status quo." He cheers up the crowd by telling stories of poor people who have it worse then them.
10:30: Laughs, jeers and catcalls when Hillary Clinton zooms onto the screen to concede. One Paulite grabs a Hillary sign and jumps up and down in front of the TV: "Hillary! Hillary! She's the easiest to beat!" The room picks it up. "Ron Paul can beat her!" "Ron Paul can beat anybody!" There's a whole lot of joy (and some pointing) at the sad Bill Clinton next to Hillary… when's the last time he had to stand on a concession stage?
10:33: Did Clinton promise to leave no child behind?
10:41: Like Stephen Spruiell reported today, the lefty netroots have made a long, curious march away from Barack Obama to John Edwards. There was plenty of enthusiasm for Obama in late 2006 and early 2007, it tempered over the course of the year, and in the last weeks Paul Krugman has led a pile-on of Obama for (among other things) not covering everyone in his health care plan, attacking trial lawyers, and arguing that Gore and Kerry had been too divisive. But since Edwards has narrowly moved past Hillary in Iowa I don't think there'll be a rush back to Obama. Edwards won his biggest-ever margin in the Daily Kos straw poll yesterday.