Mitt Romney’s win in the Iowa Caucus last night was the kind of half-hearted complement that leaves the soul unsatisfied, and in search of something else. Mitt Romney won Iowa by 8 votes after spending the past 5 years campaigning there, and funneling millions of dollars in advertising into the state. The man Romney “beat”, Rick Santorum, spent less than $200,000 on advertising in Iowa, and his campaign organization is akin to a child’s lemonade stand when compared with Mitt Romney’s Minute Maid corporate goliath.
Iowa Caucus Results
Mitt Romney 24.6% 30,015 Votes
Rick Santorum 24.5% 30,007 Votes
Ron Paul 21.4% 26,219 Votes
Newt Gingrich 13.3% 16,251 Votes
Rick Perry 10.3% 12,604 Votes
Michele Bachmann 5.0% 6,073 Votes
The Iowa Caucus results tell us something we already knew: the Republican Party does not want Mitt Romney to be their nominee. Republicans told Mitt Romney this pretty clearly in 2008, but like the good-guy boyfriend waiting for his love to dump the bad boy on the motorcycle, and realize his minivan is much better for her, Romney is intent on telling the Republicans what they should want, instead of giving them what they actually want.
In six days, on January 10th, New Hampshire will hold their primary. Mitt Romney is expected to win there; he was polling at 43% in the state, and his closest competitor, Ron Paul, was a distant second at 16%. Rick Santorum was polling at only 5% in New Hampshire…but all of those numbers were gathered before the Iowa Caucus results came in. Rick Santorum may see enough of a surge in his poll numbers, post-Iowa, that he rises to a third place showing in New Hampshire next week.
On To New Hampshire
Rick Santorum’s base is the evangelical and born-again wing of the Republican Party, and 6 out of 10 Iowa Caucus goers last night self-identified as born again, or evangelical Christians. Rick Santorum will not find the same advantageous voter makeup in New Hampshire next Tuesday. New Hampshire is one of the least religious states in the nation, and 40% of New Hampshire’s registered voters are Independent…and they can vote in the Republican primary. Rick Santorum has to campaign in the state, or risk becoming the Mike Huckabee of the year 2012, but he’s not campaigning to win New Hampshire, only to make a strong enough showing to be considered a viable national candidate. Mitt Romney is the former Governor of Massachusetts, which shares a media market with New Hampshire, and is so well known in the state that his victory there next week is a foregone conclusion. Ron Paul is also expected to do well, and is the most likely second place finisher in the Live Free or Die state, but his chances after New Hampshire seem more likely to make him launch a third party candidacy, than to be the GOP nominee. Jon Huntsman has based his entire campaign around New Hampshire, and will probably wind up with little to show for it, leading him to join Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry in oblivion.
And On To South Carolina
With this lack of suspense, the media is turning its eyes to the South Carolina primary on January 21st, and the conservative, Tea Party base of the GOP is more than happy to encourage that focus. Newt Gingrich once claimed that his firewall is in South Carolina, and he was doing very well in the polls there. Michele Bachmann has announced that she’s not going to compete in New Hampshire, and is holding a press conference today to possibly withdraw from the race. Rick Perry left Iowa to go home to Texas, and may also be considering dropping out of the race, so the South Carolina primary is swiftly becoming the determiner of who will be the Not Mitt Romney candidate for the Republican Party. The Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, has endorsed Mitt Romney, but her constituents don’t seem to agree with her, and Romney has trailed Newt Gingrich in the state in all recent polls. South Carolina will really be a race between Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, and a chance for the conservative base to coalesce around an alternative to Mitt Romney.
Mano-a-Mano In Florida
If South Carolina voters settle behind one challenger to Mitt Romney, the Florida primary on January 31st (10 days after South Carolina votes) could be a watershed moment in the GOP’s search for a nominee. If Mitt Romney has to go mano-a-mano in Florida with either Rick Santorum, or Newt Gingrich, the indecisive Republicans will have to decide between the guy on the motorcycle who has their heart, and the guy with the minivan they know they might be more successful with. I suspect the Republican voters will eventually settle on Mitt and his minivan, but like the not-conservative-enough John McCain in 2008, Mitt Romney will have to find a running mate who can generate enough excitement among the Tea Party base to give him a chance at the general election…but, if Romney’s running mate is Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich, both of those candidates are extreme enough that they could motivate Independents to vote for Obama, and reenergize the base of the Democratic Party. The Republican Party wants a candidate in step with them, but they are out of step with the rest of the country. In this kind of economy, Mitt Romney could defeat President Obama in the fall of 2012, but the GOP base will either reject him, and anoint Santorum or Gingrich as their modern-day Barry Goldwater who makes them smile, but is guaranteed to lose, OR Mitt Romney will be the nominee, but be so tied to the Republicans in Congress and an extreme running mate, that undecided voters who could’ve gone with Romney stay home, or stay with Obama. There is also the Ron Paul factor. If Ron Paul runs as a third party candidate, Republicans who can’t stomach Mitt Romney will have an alternative in the general election, guaranteeing President Obama’s reelection.
The significance of the Iowa Caucus results is simple; the GOP does not want Mitt Romney to be their nominee, the primary contest will play out for months, the conservative base will coalesce around Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich, but Romney’s vastly superior organization will eventually defeat them both, and the Republican Party will go into November 2012 with the most unloved nominee since John McCain. In 2004, the Democratic Party went through a similar experience. The Democrats loved Howard Dean the way that Republicans love Rick Santorum, and the Democratic base passionately hated George W. Bush the same way that Republicans hate President Obama now. The Democratic Party chose their nominee, John Kerry, in 2004, with their head and not their heart, much like the Republicans are prepared to do now with Mitt Romney. The Iowa Caucus results clear the way…for Barack Obama’s reelection.
Sarah Warden is the author of the novel Three Fifths of Love, available as an ebook from amazon http://www.amazon.com/Three-Fifths-Love-Marriage-ebook/dp/B005EZ3QU2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1318174116&sr=8-1
Image of Mitt Romney by IowaPolitics.com (Flickr: Mitt Romney caucus eve in Clive 022) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Image of Rick Santorum by IowaPolitics.com [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Image of Ron Paul by IowaPolitics.com (Flickr: Ron Paul MasonCityWhistleStop_640x361_) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.