- - Monday, May 18, 2015

It may only be mid-May, but we are already at the midway point of the 2016 Iowa caucus cycle. Six months from now the campaigns will be set, almost every key activist will be spoken for, and then it will be up to the candidates to close the sale in the final 60-90 days.

Two distinct things have happened since we last updated our Iowa caucus odds on March 9. First, candidates are now officially entering the race. Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina have all declared their candidacies. Rick Perry and Rick Santorum will join them in the next couple of weeks. Lindsey Graham, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker and Donald Trump have all formed presidential exploratory committees in anticipation of their runs.

Second, as has been covered at The Washington Times, conservative leaders are looking to see if it’s possible to coalesce behind a single candidate. Several of those running for the Republican nomination have auditioned to be considered champion of such an effort.

Permit me a caveat before we get into the numbers. My odds project the most likely winner in 2016 given the action on the ground in Iowa up until right now. Media polls of Iowa this early are for the most part meaningless, because at best they measure name I.D. (Just ask Rudy Giuliani and Tim Pawlenty, who were the perceived “leaders” in Iowa at this point in the past two cycles).

We are a caucus state, not a primary state. That means you don’t win here by raising your name I.D. and bombarding the airwaves with a war chest. You win here by doing retail politics and building an organization.

There are two paths to building a winning organization in Iowa: The establishment or the evangelicals. Those are the only two demos in the Iowa caucuses with enough resources – human and/or capital – capable of laying the groundwork for a victory. Therefore, if a candidate is not strong with at least one of those groups, it is highly unlikely they are going to win Iowa next year regardless of what the latest beauty pageant numbers say.

With that in mind, here are my latest Iowa caucus odds:

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz: 2-1 (was 2-1)
Cruz absolutely killed it in front of a group of conservative leaders in Washington, D.C., recently, drawing thunderous applause and rave reviews. And his organization is also well ahead of the other conservative candidates at this point.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker: 3-1 (was 2-1)
He seems content to allow his early polling buzz to substitute for on-the-ground activity and organization in Iowa. People are eagerly waiting for him but they won’t wait forever.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio: 10-1 (was 30-1)
He’s once again the biggest mover up the board, has positioned himself as many people’s second choice and was easily the second-most impressive candidate to address the aforementioned confab of conservative leaders – where he hit cultural issues surprisingly hard. That is a winning message in Iowa and may help enough conservatives forget his weakness on amnesty, which is why I (prematurely?) wrote him off a year ago. Organizationally, he’s still got a ways to go in Iowa but he’s delivering a message that could build one, and he has become a major thorn in establishment favorite Jeb Bush’s side.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee: 10-1 (was 5-1)
He had the misfortune of being sandwiched between young guns Cruz and Rubio during the recent auditions for conservative leaders. There is a sense people want to turn the page but a lot of Iowans still like him.

Dr. Ben Carson: 15-1 (was 25-1)
Brutal honesty: I have no idea where to put him. His buzz among the activists has died down considerably after a few missteps yet he’s still drawing good crowds in Iowa. Are these voters or admirers? We may not find out until caucus night.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul: 20-1 (was 20-1)
Regardless of whether there are 15 candidates on the ballot next winter or five, Paul is going to receive between 10 percent and 15 percent of the vote. That’s pretty much locked in, so now it’s a matter of seeing how the rest of the field divvies up what’s left.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal: 35-1 (was 40-1)
He could be the Rick Santorum of 2016: Just waiting in the wings to pounce if and when the first-tier candidates are weighed, measured and found wanting late in the game.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum: 40-1 (was 50-1)
The reigning Iowa Caucus champ needs to convince his supporters not to desert him for either Cruz or Huckabee, which is not an easy task.

Businessman Donald Trump: 50-1 (was 35-1)
A path to victory is difficult to foresee, but he’s planning on spending an obscene amount of money and has hired the state’s best grass-roots coordinator so at least he has a puncher’s chance.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush: 50-1 (was 15-1)
His caucus campaign is in a lot of trouble. The biggest slider since our last update. He’s taking on water in Iowa and losing support to Walker, Rubio and even Christie (more on that later).

Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry: 100-1 (was 100-1)
Actually has more organizational presence in Iowa than most of the candidates above him. But when put in front of a room full of conservative leaders you could see how the likable Perry just doesn’t command the stage the way a president is expected to.

Businesswoman Carly Fiorina: 250-1 (was 500-1)
There seems to be a pattern with her. She wows people on camera and on the stump, but then they vet her on issues like marriage and global warming and that enthusiasm is tempered.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: 500-1 (was 1,000-1)
He makes a move up since our last update because word on the street is this is who Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and his political team favor. While I can’t imagine any scenario where he could actually win Iowa, I suppose it’s remotely possible he could finish in the top three with Branstad’s help – as remotely possible as Branstad cutting the size of government in Iowa.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham: 1,000-1 (was 750-1)
He’d have better odds challenging Hillary Clinton in the Democrat caucus. Seriously.

(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.)

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