Mitt Romney Wins Iowa Caucuses; Santorum Now Relevant

by Mike on January 4, 2012

in Election 2012,Politics

The first part isn’t as bad it sounds, but it was still a good night for Mitt Romney.  It always is when you win a caucus or a primary, especially if it is the first one.  That said, the vote was remarkably close, with Romney edging out my candidate, Rick Santorum, by just 8 votes out of over 121,000 cast.

The winners last night are obvious.  Romney was a winner because, well, he won.  Santorum was also a winner because he finished in the strongest second possible after wallowing in the low-single digits for months on end.  Unlike placing second in an opinion poll or even a string of polls, finishing a close second to the frontrunner in a contest where votes are actually cast ensures a great deal of free media coverage and a bump in fundraising.  That momentum doesn’t guarantee future success, but it does provide an opportunity for the candidate to tell his story.  When that candidate hasn’t raised money in the past, trailed in the polls, and occupied the edge of the debate stages, the importance of that opportunity cannot be overstated.  Ron Paul was also a winner by placing a very strong third.

This is more debatable, but I think Newt Gingrich was a quasi-winner by placing fourth.  Prior to Iowa, the Speaker’s standing was dropping and there was a question as to whether he could finish fourth, and if so, how strong a fourth.  By finishing in double digits with a somewhat comfortable margin over Rick Perry (who had a better organization in Iowa), the Speaker may have done himself a favor.  He is still in a precarious position, but Iowa wasn’t fatal to his chances.

The losers were Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann.  Perry’s loss is curable.  It was clear that he was going to finish in the so-called lower tier, but he had the money, organization, and standing to beat Gingrich but he didn’t. That said, Newt’s upcoming antics will probably transfer some of the benefits of his fourth place finish to Perry. Like I said, those benefits aren’t much to hang your hat on, but it is a lifeline in this primary.  Bachmann has already suspended (that’s the twenty first century political term for “ending”) her campaign.

Now that I’ve given you my generic “second is better than third, but not as good as first” post, here are some other observations.

Despite winning the caucus, Romney can’t be thrilled with his finish. The 25 percent vote total confirms what every poll outside of New Hampshire (where Mitt owns a pretty sweet house) has shown for a long time: the frontrunner has trouble breaking 30 percent despite his overwhelming fundraising, name recognition, and organizational advantages.  That’s fine when there are 512 candidates in the race, but as the field narrows and the number of anti-Romney’s shrink in a contest where the overwhelming majority of voters play a game of musical anti-Romneys, 25 percent won’t be good enough.  Unless Romney can cause anti-Romney voters to change their minds like he does on a regular basis, he will be in trouble, eventually.

Part of the reason why Romney may be in trouble is that Newt Gingrich is really pissed off.  Romney, technically a non-affiliated PAC, targeted Gingrich in Iowa early and often and damaged his standing in the polls.  Now, Newt seems to be hellbent on revenge.  In his speech last night, he lavished Rick Santorum with praise and seemed ready to embark on a scorched earth campaign against Romney.  That’s bad news for Romney because he needs to avoid scrutiny of his record.  It’s also bad news for Gingrich because direct negative attacks can also damage the source, but I don’t think Gingrich cares.  I think his number one goal is to make sure Romney doesn’t win.  That’s great news for Santorum, Perry, and the country.

I can’t wait for the two New Hampshire debates this week.

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