"Clearly, Romney's strategy is to win Iowa and New Hampshire, then hope that momentum carries him through later contests. Giuliani's plan seems to be to do respectably well in Iowa, then go for a win in South Carolina and maybe New Hampshire, and hope the victory or victories push him forward. For Thompson, the strategy seems to be to make a respectable showing in Iowa, tough it out in New Hampshire, then win in South Carolina.
On the Democratic side, the real contest is to see whether anyone can stop Clinton in Iowa. If she can't be stopped there, she probably won't be stopped at all."
I agree with those assessments and it got me back to thinking about each candidate's musts and must-nots and generally their separate potential paths to the nomination.
So, here is the path I would lay down for each of the viable candidates, were I their adviser:
Plan a) Win Iowa and become unstoppable.
Plan b) Finish strong in Iowa, win New Hampshire. Pick up a few more wins in the early states and hope that the other states don't all go to the same opponent (say, Iowa-Edwards, SC-Obama, Nevada-Richardson) so that the anti-Hillary forces can't unite before Feb. 5.
What can go wrong: Iowa is a 3-way race and Richardson looks close to making it a 4-way race. Obama is a clear threat in South Carolina and Michigan. Any of the other 3 main candidates could win in Iowa and turn that into a solid second in New Hampshire, a win or solid second in Michigan, Nevada, South Carolina, and Florida. That just might allow the anti-Hillary forces to unite behind that candidate before Feb. 5.
What must happen: She must win in New Hampshire and/or South Carolina in order to immunize herself from a loss in Iowa. She must win in Florida or she loses front-runner status, since it will be essentially a beauty contest and more or less a barometer for the Feb. 5 primaries.
Plan a) Win Iowa, finish 2nd in New Hampshire and Michigan, win Nevada (with an SEIU endorsement), win South Carolina and Florida and plow into Feb. 5 with all of the mo'.
Plab b) Top 3 in Iowa, 2nd in New Hampshire and Michigan, then win Nevada (with an SEIU endorsement), win South Carolina and come close in Florida to make it a clear 2-way race for Feb. 5.
What can go wrong: His support in Iowa might be too clumped around urban areas to do well in a caucus. Should Richardson keep surging, Obama might fall to 4th in Iowa, something he likely wouldn't be able to recover from. If Edwards wins in Iowa and wins the SEIU-Las Vegas endorsement, Obama loses in Nevada. If Edwards drops out before South Carolina, his white voters will likely switch over to Hillary, who will also pull a large segment of the Bill-loyal black vote.
What must happen: He has to win South Carolina and at least one previous state, and come close in Florida to have enough mo' to challenge Hillary on Feb. 5.
Plan a) Win Iowa, finish 2nd in New Hampshire, 2nd or 3rd in Michigan, win Nevada (with an SEIU endorsement), hope Obama drops out before Feb. 5 and get his (at least tacit) endorsement.
Plan b) Don't win in Iowa. Drop out and endorse Obama.
What can go wrong: The "inevitability factor" might help Hillary pull away in Iowa. Even if Edwards wins Iowa, Hillary and Obama can win later states and make it a 3-way race at best by Feb. 5.
What must happen: Win Iowa.
General plan) Finish 2nd in Iowa and New Hampshire, win Nevada. Pray that neither Obama nor Edwards wins any of the other early states and that Richardson can effectively become the anti-Hillary before Feb. 5.
What can go wrong: He has no reason to expect a top 3 finish in any of the above-mentioned states. Should he still not have a good finish (and a fund-raising bump from it) after Nevada, he'll have to drop out.
What must happen: Plainly, he must be the only non-Hillary candidate to win an early state.
General plan) Finish 2nd in Iowa and New Hampshire virtually everywhere. Hope the other non-Hillary candidates drop out and endorse him.