Iowa forecast

The race to the White House kicks off in earnest tomorrow, with the Iowa Caucuses, the first real test of the Republican field.

In any sane universe the GOP would already have picked Jon Huntsman, who is clearly the candidate best placed to woo disaffected Obama supporters, but he isn’t even standing in Iowa, where the socially conservative terrain doesn’t suit his relative moderation. Instead the voters of the Hawkeye State look set to choose either almost-sensible (compared with the rest) Mitt Romney, or whichever wingnut is currently in favour with the party’s influential evangelicals – as we write that’s Rick Santorum, but the darlings of the right have been coming and going with bewildering frequency over the last few months, so it’s probably too early to dismiss the chances of Newt Gingrich or Rick Perry, though Michelle Bachmann does look to be out of it.

Away from social issues all the candidates are fairly consistent on the big question of the economy, favouring tax cuts and less regulation for corporate America, disagreeing only on how low the corporate tax rate should be, to the delight of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal.

The dark horse in the contest is of course Ron Paul, who looks set to secure second place, or perhaps even win. Paul has spoken of his desire to unite the Tea Party and the Occupy Movement, and his barely-coherent blend of populism, libertarianism and conspiracy theory does seem to be drawing support from left and right. This is more than a little concerning. We have previously noted that the financial crisis in Europe has the potential to fuel a rise in fascism, and it would appear that a similar process may be operating across the Atlantic, as an economically-squeezed population, disaffected with mainstream politics, looks for a leader who seems to understand their anxieties. There does seem to be some awareness of the danger among US progressives, but the need for an organised party to the left of the Democrats has never been more pressing.

My predictions? Romney to win tomorrow, and to take the nomination. Paul to go all the way to the convention, building a significant movement along the way. Obama to win in November. Then again, this time four years ago I was looking forward to another President Clinton…

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