DES MOINES, Iowa --
You know you were at a terrifically fun yet terribly important New Year's party if, shortly after 10 pm ET (9 pm in wind-chill-whipped Iowa), everyone stopped looking at Dick Clark (or Howard Wolfson or David Axelrod or Gentry Collins or Ed Rollins) and started scrolling on BlackBerries.
The last pre-Iowa numbers that mean anything at all are certain to shape perceptions, expectations, and overall mood in the final sprint to Iowa. Yes, the same folks who are blasting the methodology would be trumpeting the victory if they were on top.
But before we let this mean too much, the more important question to ask: Is Sen. Barack Obama acting like he's confident that he's seven (!) points up on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton? (No.)
And does former governor Mike Huckabee look like a man who's secure in the knowledge that he's six points up on former governor Mitt Romney? (No, but with Huckabee, now the undisputed owner of the most bizarre, surreal, can't-make-this-stuff-up moment of the cycle, it's probably best to give up guessing what's going through his mind).
For the Democrats, it's Obama 32, Clinton 25, and former senator John Edwards on her heels at 24 (and single digits for the rest) in the Des Moines Register poll. But there are plenty of reasons to think this doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot:
"Roughly a third of likely caucusgoers say they could be persuaded to choose someone else before Thursday evening," Tom Beaumont writes in the Register.
"All of the three leaders in Iowa draw a majority of support from new caucusgoers, although Obama benefits the most with 72 percent of his support coming from first-timers compared to 58 percent of Clinton's and 55 percent of Edwards' supporters."
Among the GOP, it's Huckabee 32, Romney 26, and Sen. John McCain (in prime position to be the other Iowa "winner") at 13. Yet here comes the sprinkling of salt on icy Iowa:
"The poll shows there remains enough indecision among likely caucus participants to scramble both the race for first place between Huckabee and Romney, and the battle for third," Jonathan Roos writes. "Nearly one-half of caucusgoers say they could still be persuaded to support another candidate."
David Yepsen's take: "Huckabee appears to have fended off a last-minute surge from Mitt Romney. After a tight race for months, Obama seems to be opening up a last-minute lead over Hillary Clinton and John Edwards."
But then the caveats: "Undecideds exist." "Last-minute developments won't be reflected." "Some support is soft." "A lot of caucus-goers are first-timers."
More caveats (and the Clinton and Edwards campaigns of eager to point them out): "Obama supporters are very heavily independents, and the DMR predicts 40% independents and 5% Republicans will caucus -- a stunningly high share compared with past caucuses, and likely reflecting Obama's powerful appeal to the center," Politico's Jonathan Martin writes. "Clinton, meanwhile, leads among Democrats."
And a bigger caveat comes in the form of the CNN/Opinion Research poll: Clinton 33, Obama 31, Edwards 22. GOP side has it at Romney 31, Huckabee 28.
There's a very real chance that Thursday night will not bring clarity, despite those fancy high-def monitors that will display caucus results inside the Polk County Convention Complex.