Hello again! If you didn’t read Part I already, do so now.
Tier 3: Waiting on a Miracle
11. Rick Santorum (12, 11, 11)
10. Mike Huckabee (11, 10, 10)
Those two are the embodiment of this tier’s title. Frankly, I’ve probably waited too long to put them in the ignominious Pataki/Gilmore tier. Santorum (2012) and Huckabee (2008) hit their absolute ceiling in their previous runs, and they were able to do so because they had no viable rivals for evangelical voters. They rode those voters to an Iowa win before ultimately coming in second to a better funded, more mainstream, more acceptable candidate. Even that second place ceiling is all but impossible now considering the evangelical competition this time around, most notably with Ted Cruz and Ben Carson. Even their Iowa base has never really considered them for 2016; Huckabee clocks in at a 2.3 Iowa RCP average while Santorum is at just 0.5. Santorum recently reminded us he was at the back of the pack four years ago, too, but in the wake of their last campaign, they can’t claim that Iowans haven’t gotten to know them yet. While one of them — more likely Huckabee — can make a late run with undecided to maybe finish Iowa’s top five, it won’t translate to anything. They never had a realistic shot. Combined they might have a one percent chance at the nomination.
9. Carly Fiorina (8, 8, 6)
8. Rand Paul (10, 12, 12)
7. Ben Carson (7, 5, 8)
I’d estimate that each these candidates have about a one percent shot at the nomination, give or take a few tenths of a percentage point.
The party just doesn’t seem interested in Fiorina. After the early autumn peak that accompanied her sharp debates, she’s found it impossible to find that second surge. She’s finished and should position herself to be the female attack dog against Hillary Clinton in the VP slot.
Rand Paul, meanwhile, is creeping up ever so slowly, making him unique in Tier 3. Santorum and Huckabee are flatlining, while Fiorina and Carson have hemorrhaged support for quite some time. Check out their national polling trends over the last three months:
Paul isn’t losing supporters to Trump and Cruz like Carson and Fiorina have, and he’s edged ahead of Fiorina not only nationally, but in Iowa as well. Paul has a pretty low ceiling due to his libertarian ideology not meshing well with the GOP’s, but his floor is also higher than Fiorina’s, who might bottom out before voting begins. If he has his father’s stubbornness, he’s also less likely to drop out after two states. I wouldn’t be surprised if Paul squeezes out a couple delegates.
Finally, Ben Carson’s disastrous campaign continues to lose support faster than any candidate we’ve seen in this primary. He still has a shot a top three in Iowa if he spends every minute of the next four weeks there. He also has a shot at a top 2 if Trump’s supporters don’t turn out to be voters, which would look like a Carson coup. Then he can use the inhale of political oxygen to transition to a South Carolina campaign, where at last check he was clinging to competitiveness. There’s a good chance he’ll finish with more delegates than the guy at #6 in these Power Rankings, but there’s a worse chance he’ll earn the nomination, which is what we’re ranking here in the first place.
As for who that #6 is, we’ll see him and the rest of Tier 2 here tomorrow. See you then.