With less than a week to go before Iowans brave the cold weather to attend their precinct caucuses, the Democratic race is as difficult to predict as ever. Campaigns have blanketed the state with candidates and surrogates, and staff are working long hours in their final push for supporters and volunteers.
Today, Iowa Independent releases its final round of power rankings, designed to answer the question, "If the caucuses were held tonight, what would be the results?" The rankings are derived from impressions we received from activists, campaign officials, seasoned political observers, and rank-and-file caucus-goers, but at the most basic level, they are based on the gut feelings and instincts of our writers, who have watched the race unfold here from the beginning.
A lot can change in six days, and we expect that it will. But if the caucuses were held tonight, this is how we think they would turn out:First Place
Barack Obama -- The Obama campaign's ability to build a crowd is its greatest asset. The Illinois senator consistently seems to draw larger crowds than his opponents in the same places, which speaks both to the strength of his campaign's organization and the enthusiasm his candidacy seems to generate. And his wave of small-town newspaper endorsements should enhance his second-choice support in rural parts of the state where he has been perceived as weak. If the caucuses were held tonight, Obama would pull off a narrow victory.
(tie) Hillary Clinton -- The Clinton campaign's ambitious "Every County Counts" tour the week before Christmas was not without errors, but its lasting impact seems to be that it firmed up some of the campaign's softer support and drew new caucus-goers in to hear what Clinton had to say. That, in combination with the Des Moines Register's endorsement and the extraordinary efforts of independent groups like Emily's List and AFSCME, would put Clinton in second place if the caucuses were held tonight.
(tie) John Edwards -- Edwards's greatest asset is the foundation he began building over a year ago. He has lost some of the activists he recruited early on to other campaigns, but in recent weeks his constant campaigning has firmed up his base. His supporters are likely to caucus, and many of them are experienced activists who know what it takes to get out the vote. If the caucuses were held tonight, we think he would finish second.
Joe Biden -- Recent news out of Pakistan plays right into Biden's central argument: that the United States needs a thoughtful, experienced hand to guide its foreign policy. Biden may also benefit from widespread second-choice support from caucus-goers who do not wish to caucus for one of the top three candidates if they are forced to realign with other groups on caucus night.
Bill Richardson -- Richardson's foreign policy experience may be his greatest asset, but his stump speech performances are inconsistent and sometimes unconvincing. One gets the sense that some caucus-goers feel he is not ready for prime time.
Chris Dodd -- Dodd has pockets of support across the state, but he may not reach the 15% threshold for viability in many precincts. He continues to campaign energetically, and almost everyone likes him, but his candidacy has not caught on.
Dennis Kucinich -- At this point, it remains to be seen whether Kucinich will even show up in Des Moines to give a concession speech on caucus night. He has spent such little time here that most of his hold-out supporters from 2004 have found other candidates.
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