04 January 2012

The Aftermath of the Iowa Caucuses

Despite my prescience for an effective three way Tie-owa (sic) in the Hawkeye Caucuses, it was amazing what a close margin separated the top two candidates.  Former Governor Mitt Romney (R-MA) squeaked out a victory against dark horse conservative candidate former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) by a margin of eight votes out of 122,225 participants.

The story was not Romney’s first place finish but the remarkable transformation of the Santorum candidacy from near worst to first in a little less than a fortnight. Santorum went from polling around 5% in Iowa in early December to garnering 24.5% of support among GOP caucus goers.

 But overnight sensations usually require lots of preparation out of the spotlight.  Santorum basically camped out in Iowa for the last several months and put all of his efforts into Iowa.  Making a virtue of a scant campaign warchest, Santorum did virtually no wholesale politics as he only aired one 30 second television ad. Instead, Santorum relied on retail campaigning on a shoe string budget. Santorum relied upon the “Chuck Truck” to escort him to the 381 town-hall meetings and 36 Pizza Ranches in all of Iowa’s 99 counties.  That up close and personal politicking along with a platform appealing to values voters seemed to sway the 41% of persuadable caucus  participants.

Senator Santorum delayed making his post-Caucus speech until after midnight, perhaps hoping that the final results would be in, but to no avail.  Even though Santorum was a few votes short, his speech sounded like a victory speech.  The mostly ad libbed remarks were unusual in contemporary American politics.   Santorum jocularly began his remarks by proclaiming “Game on!” to rally his ebullient supporters. But then  Santorum emotionally read a quotation which he attributed to by Catholic theologian C.S. Lewis: “A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.” that  Santorum intended for his beloved wife Karen. 

Afterward the emotional pre-amble Santorum hit upon his campaign themes that most voters out of Iowa had yet to hear. This value oriented, blue collar friendly campaign could have resonance amongst Tea Party types, Reagan Democrats or “independents” , evangelicals (if they can get over his on his sleeve Catholic faith) and what former Governor Tim Pawlenty (an early drop out from the 2012 Presidential race) would term Wal-Mart Conservatives.   Santorum also revealed some punch, as Santorum thanked God for voters that President Obama dismissed as bitter clingers as “They share our values about faith and family. They understand that when the family breaks down, the economy struggles”.

Even though Romney scored a “W” in the 2012 Iowa Caucuses, his extremely narrow victory prompted politicos tongues to wag.  Some scorn Romney’s inability to build upon his margins from the 2008 Caucuses.  That is a facile comparison as Romney invested considerable time and treasure in the Hawkeye State in 2008 and had not committed to vigorously participating until mid-December.  However, the Romney campaign indicated its confidence in winning in Iowa, which skewed the expectation game.  This narrow victory just gives anti-Romney forces fuel to talk down the front-runner.  Since New Hampshire primary voters seem to revel in being contrarians and rejecting the perceived victor in the Iowa Caucuses, Santorum’s 2nd place “victory” may somewhat help Romney in the first in the nation primary. That being said, it is curious that Romney coordinated an endorsement today by Granite State sweetheart Senator John Mc Cain (R-AZ). It makes one wonder if Romney’s standing in New Hampshire is as solid as it has been portrayed. 

Congressman Ron Paul’s (R-TX 14th) third place finish of  21% ensures that his campaign will get the ticket punch out of Iowa, but it is questionable if it will be a first class ticket.  Rep. Paul had invested everything in Iowa and his prowess was dependent on near fanatical organization by Paulistian true believers.   Despite organizing in Iowa for the last six years, Paul underperformed.  Iowa Caucus Entrance Polls indicate that 43% of Paul’s support came from “Independents”.  This would be an attractive statistic for the general elections, but such crossover voting in the primaries seems reminiscent of “Operation Chaos” where the other party makes mischief and has a hand in choosing their opponent’s nominee. Although Paul will probably remain in the race until the bitter end, as the 76 year old Congressman is not running for re-election and may want to play kingmaker, the aftermath of the Iowa Caucuses does not make him the likely stalking horse of disaffected GOP primary voters.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA 6th) was not a happy camper with his fourth place finish at 13%.  Gingrich gave a pugnacious concession speech which offered veiled venom towards Governor Romney because Newt feels that Romney Super-PAC negative ads killed his front-runner status. In fact, the day after the Iowa Caucuses, the Gingrich campaign bought a full page ad in the New Hampshire “Union Leader” which frames the race as a choice between a timid Massachusetts moderate and a self proclaimed Reagan Conservative like Gingrich.  Yet in Gingrich’s concession speech, he   extended laurels to Senator  Santorum. One is left with the impression that his continued candidacy is a Gingrich grudge match against Romney.  Expect Gingrich to continue flip flopping on his positive campaign promise and extend sharp elbows through the January 7th debate in South Carolina.

Former Obama Administration Ambassador Governor Jon Huntsman (R-UT) was miffed because Michele Bachmann (R-MN) was said to be in last place even though he scored the lowest vote count among active candidates.  But Bachmann re-evaluated her core beliefs after placing sixth in her birthplace and neighboring state’s caucuses and dropped out.  That frees up a little more Tea Party support for more “Not Romney” candidates.  Governor Rick Perry’s (R-TX) fifth place concession speech alluded to returning to Texas to pray and discern if there was a route to eventual victory.  Usually that is code for quitting. But Perry send out a Twitter message showing him jogging saying: “And the next leg of the marathon is the Palmetto State...Here we come South Carolina!!!” I guess Perry’s prayers were answered by campaign contributors who blessed continuing his crusade.

Perry’s continued presence in the race for the Republican Presidential nomination makes things interesting.  If it were essentially a two person race, it is likely that not Romney forces would quickly coalesce in one candidate and strike in South Carolina and Florida, which is not natural Romney territory.  If Newt continues in his vengeful vein against Romney, support would likely rally around Santorum.  While Perry under-performed with rural evangelical voters in Iowa, South Carolina primary voters could provide a fertile ground for a Not Romney stalking horse.

Santorum make a stunning second place “victory”  in Iowa and make an impressive victory speech.   But it remains to be seen if Santorum can quickly put together an organization to capitalize on this meteoric rise in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.  Big Momentum from Iowa can catapult a candidate, but he has to sell his message and be able to stand and deliver as well as organize outside of Iowa.

This year’s Republican Primary rules is supposed to make the early contests proportional voting. Counting Florida’s delegates may be as perilous as determining hanging chads in 2000. To grab headlines as an early primary, Florida moved up its primary to January 31st. The Republican National Committee responded by promising to only count 50% of the delegates to punish the Sunshine State for jumping its turn. However enforcement of this penalty is questionable considering that the convention will be held in Tampa, Florida.  To further complicate the matter, Florida recently insisted that its primary will be winner-take-all. After the Florida primary, there are a few smaller state caucuses (Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, Nevada) and then there is a three week pause before Michigan and Arizona primaries and then leading into Super Tuesday on March 6th.

This is why the aftermath of the Iowa Caucuses is important.  A prolonged primary fight favors candidates that can cobble together strong fund-raising and organization.  Clearly, Romney is adept at both qualities but the three way tie in Iowa indicates that he has not closed the deal.  Santorum’s momentum may be short lived as his record is scrutinized and if he is unable to quickly establish a national campaign.  Perry only got a second class ticket out of Iowa and basically is skipping the Granite State. But his campaign’s large war chest and demographics in key early battles could be a route to victory. But Perry must avoid “Oops” moments, not give half hearted or over-caffeinated debate performances and be able to connect with both Tea Party types and the rural and evangelical voters upon which he hitched his campaign wagon. 

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