Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Summing Up Iowa

The Iowa Caucus has come and gone.

The results were a virtual photo finish between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, but the real winner of course was Rick Santorum.

I say that because Santorum managed to come up on top with a shoestring campaign that spent a fraction of what his opponents did in Iowa, and he did it in spite of being largely marginalized in the debates. He did it in a way that you can really only do in a small state like Iowa - using shoe leather and rental car miles. Like Mike Huckabee before him, Rick Santorum triumphed in Iowa because a lot of people had a chance to meet him and liked what they saw.

Also working in his favor was the high percentage of social conservatives in Iowa and the fact that his rivals imploded. In the end, it came down to a choice between Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum or Ron Paul.

Despite various naysayers, the fact that Mitt Romney did as well as he did in a Midwestern state loaded with evangelicals and social conservatives says something about his relatively broad appeal to various factions. He wasn't supposed to win here, and he actually devoted very little time in Iowa until the last weeks, when polls showed him near the top of the field.

As I wrote on these pages long ago, a significant part of this election after three plus years of Barack Obama is going to be about competency, and Mitt Romney definitely comes across as a competent candidate whom could actually perform well in the Oval Office.

Both Romney and Santorum now proceed to New Hampshire with very different challenges.

Rick Santorum has to raise enough money based on his Iowa finish to put together a campaign organization capable of taking him to the next level. If he doesn't, he simply won't go much further. He also needs to be able to adjust his message sufficiently to appeal to voters more concerned with the economy than social conservative issues.

And finally, Santorum is no longer going to be marginalized as a candidate, with all that implies. He's going to be getting greater scrutiny, and he's going to be a target. How he deals with that will make or break his candidacy. The atacks have already started with the meme in a number of quarters that he's a 'big government conservative.' He is in the sense that like almost everyone else in the GOP fold he believes in a strong national defense,border security, and a sound fiscal and trade policy. He doesn't if you translate it as 'welfare state', which is what it really means today.

Mitt Romney's challenge will be to build on his success. This is going to be a little trickier than it sounds. While Mitt Romney will undoubtedly do well in new Hampshire, he will face increased media scrutiny and is likely to face visceral attacks by Newt Gingrich,who is embittered over his showing in Iowa after leading in the pols there at one point, and blames a series of negative ads run bu a pro-Romney super-PAC.

Anyone whom saw Gingrich's speech last night knows there's blood in the water. I would even say it's to the point where Gingrich, historically a bomb thrower, cares less about winning the White House at this point than he does about doing his best to destroy Mitt Romney. That and trying to hold on until South Carolina and attempt to eke out a win there is pretty much what remains of Newt Gingrich's strategy,and we'll see it unveiled in New Hampshire in the debates and in Newt Gingrich's ads.

Gingrich will also try to contrast himself as the 'Reagan conservative' he isn't as opposed to 'liberal' Romney.

Mitt Romney's challenge will be to defend himself forcefully while not going over the line into anger and tit for tat infighting.

Rick Perry, after a disappointing fourth place finish will probably be looking at South Carolina as his firewall. If he's unable to make a decent showing there, he will likely drop out.

The biggest loser of course was Ron Paul. Due to Iowa's caucus rules, this was probably his best chance to make a decent showing. He bet all his chips on it, and lost.

Iowa's third place finish, well behind Romney and Santorum is probably the best he's going to do in the primaries, although he will continue to be a force in the campaign. His real goal is to be a spoiler and set up things for a third party run.


louielouie said...

a choice between Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum or Ron Paul.

a choice?
you call that a choice?
a choice?
you call that a choice?
what's left of the country formerly known as the united states of america will have nothing to do with anything associated, in the least, with anything resembling conservatism. social or otherwise.
vladimir putin couldn't get elected president of the united states.
he's not socialist enough.
this election is going to come down to a single test, when all is said and done.
anybody but hussein.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't the biggest loser be Bachmann, not Paul?

Rob said...

Hi Louie,
Yes, I do call it a choice. Remember, IMO there are three primary goals here - defeating Obama, repealing ObamaCare and electing the most conservative Congress possible.Romney or Santorum both would repeal Obamacare and both have a good chance at defeating Obama. The third is up to us.And someone else may yet get into the race anyway.

No Anonymous, I don't consider Michele Bachmann the biggest loser. She never had much of a chance of either winning Iowa or the White House ever since the problem with Ed Rollins.

On the other hand, those people celebrating her exit should remember that this is a very smart lady and a quick learner, and this was her first national campaign.she'll have learned from this and she'll be back.

Ron Paul, on the other hand, based a lot of his hopes on Iowa. He expected top win of come a close second here and needed to momentum to raise more $$ to raise his profile for his ultimate role..spoiler and third party candidate.

Placing behind Romney and Santorum meant a lot more to his political future than Bachmann's finish did to her.

Anonymous said...

Well, Perry was considered a winner when he jumped in. And now he's toast. Paul knew he'd never be the nominee. Based on the expectation/result equation, Perry is probably the worst candidate in history. Paul at least exposed his ideas to a large group of people. Perry simply made a fool of himself. I'm not a Paul fan, just pointing this out.