On Saturday, the first-in-the-nation Iowa Caucuses officially got underway with Congressman Steve King’s Iowa Freedom Summit.
With a list of speakers as distinguished as you’ll see at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), most of the people who have spent at least five minutes thinking about being the 2016 Republican presidential nominee were there. With the exception of Jeb Bush (conservatives are not his crowd), Bobby Jindal (he was hosting a spiritual revival event in Louisiana), Marco Rubio (“Gang of 8” amnesty and Mr. King don’t necessarily mix), Rand Paul (he’s on a passive-aggressive kick at the moment), and Mitt Romney (perpetually unsure of himself).
After having an entire day to size up most of the field in one place together for the first time, as well as talk to key activists and sources, it’s time to update my Iowa Caucus odds since last November’s debut.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: 2-1 (was 4-1)
If Mr. Cruz’s speech and the crowd reaction to it were based on a best-selling book it would be titled “The Five Love Languages.” Mr. Cruz credibly and inspirationally touched on every key theme of the current zeitgeist, and is clearly the favorite of the conservative activists. If there were a straw poll at this event, he would’ve won it.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: 4-1 (was 5-1)
This was Mr. Walker’s coming out party, and I heard mixed reaction to his speech from those I talked to. However, several governing conservatives (those holding electing office or aspiring to) were buzzing about Mr. Walker throughout the event. He also just hired David Polyansky, who helped guide Joni Ernst’s successful U.S. Senate victory in Iowa.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee: 5-1 (was 4-1)
Mr. Cruz’s ascendancy obviously comes at the expense of others, and Mr. Huckabee is among them. The 2008 caucus champ is still well-liked, but he doesn’t have a lock on the state’s evangelical multitude. I know several former Huckabee supporters who are leaning Cruz and/or the next candidate on the list.
Dr. Ben Carson: 8-1 (was 10-1)
I spoke with several of my key conservative friends in the days leading up to Mr. King’s event, and we all had the same story. A family member who has conservative values, but rarely if ever votes Republican and never in primaries, yet they’re asking about Mr. Carson and are impressed with him. If Mr. Cruz currently represents the best chance to recreate the Reagan coalition, Mr. Carson is the best chance to create a new coalition.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal: 15-1 (was 25-1)
He is the dark-horse in the field. A lot of conservatives like him but still don’t see him yet as a No. 1. However, if Mr. Cruz should prove not ready for prime time and Mr. Carson unable to run a professional campaign, he could be the one waiting in the wings to take advantage.
Jeb Bush/Mitt Romney/Chris Christie: 20-1 (was N/A)
The establishment field has narrowed to these three since my previous odds. Assuming the establishment is eventually able to winnow it down to just one, history shows this candidate has a floor/ceiling of 18 percent to 25 percent depending on environment. This will not be a favorable environment for an establishment candidate in Iowa.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul: 25-1 (was 15-1)
It’s pretty hard to win Iowa when you don’t show up for either of the last two mega events hosted by the state’s two most influential conservatives — Bob Vander Plaats and Mr. King. I know several 2012 Ron Paul people who are either disillusioned and/or flirting with joining Cruz 2016. He needs to reassess his messaging and strategy.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum: 30-1 (was 20-1)
Now that Mr. Huckabee’s intention to run is confirmed, it has drained support from the reigning Iowa Caucus champion. Many of the people who put him over the top in 2012 went his way because Mr. Huckabee didn’t run then. But he’s running now, and that’s bad news for Mr. Santorum.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry: 40-1 (was 50-1)
He’s persistent and hanging around. Nobody’s really fired up by him being in the race, but nobody’s really disappointed by it either. He’s fun to hear speak and hard not to like. But he still hasn’t convinced people he’s presidential material.
Businessman Donald Trump: 50-1 (was 100-1)
There is a lot of interest in Mr. Trump, but also a lot of skepticism, too. His snarky dismissal of recycling Mr. Romney or another Bush was perhaps the biggest applause line of the entire event. However, a lot of people still aren’t convinced he’s really serious about running. Right now, voters are more intrigued by him than interested in him.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio: 50-1 (was 30-1)
At this point, a lot of things would have to go right for Mr. Rubio to win. Nobody in this field is more damaged by one issue than Mr. Rubio is by the “gang of 8” amnesty scam from 2013.
Carly Fiorina: 500-1 (was N/A)
Most didn’t know who she was coming in, but she gave a surprisingly strong speech. I was also impressed with her ability to articulate when I spoke with her one-on-one. Still, she’s a long-shot at best.
Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore: 500-1 (was N/A)
He has a solid resume, but in this star-studded field so does everyone else. Thus, it’s going to take more than that to move up in the pecking order.
Off the Board
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence. Despite the media speculation surrounding their potential candidacies, there is nothing substantive happening in Iowa so far that would indicate either is seriously contemplating mounting a run.
(Steve Deace is a nationally syndicated talk show host and also the author of the new book “Rules for Patriots: How Conservatives Can Win Again.” You can “like” him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @SteveDeaceShow.)