EARLY THIS MORNING, we learned that after hours of twists and turns and lead swapping it was former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney who had triumphed in the Iowa caucus, by a mere eight votes.
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum had at various stages led Romney but when all the votes were in from the 99 counties of the Hawkeye state it was Romney who triumphed with 30,015 votes to Santorum’s 30,007 or 24.6 per cent to 24.5 per cent.
They were followed in third place by Texas congressman Ron Paul on 21.45 per cent (26,219 votes). Then came former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, 13.29 per cent(16,251 votes); Texas Governor Rick Perry, 10.3 per cent (12,604 votes); Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann Bachmann, 4.97 per cent (6,073 votes); and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman (745 votes).
There were 135 votes which had no preference, other candidates got 117 votes, former pizza magnate Herman Cain – who ended his campaign late last year – was able to pick up 58 votes and the former Governor of Louisiana Charles ‘Buddy’ Roemer took 31 votes.
So where does that leave the candidates’ hopes of being the Republican nominee to face Barack Obama in the US presidential election later this year? There are a multitude of analysis pieces and political commentators now trying to ascertain what happens next.
What is certain is that we go to New Hampshire, the first state to hold an actual primary vote next Tuesday.
‘They pick presidents in New Hampshire’
Some candidates have not even bothered campaigning in New Hampshire just as former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman decided to shun Iowa. “They pick corn in Iowa. They actually pick presidents here in New Hampshire,” was the former US Ambassador to China’s assessment.
Predictably, he picked up few votes in rural Iowa and he will be banking on a good showing in New Hampshire. He has deep pockets but has generated little buzz among Republicans and his ties to the Obama administration – as its appointed ambassador to Beijing – are proving troublesome.
Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry clearly disagree. They had indicated before last night’s result that she would not be campaigining in New Hampshire, focussing instead on South Carolina, which holds its primary on 21 January.
But the fact that we have learned this afternoon that both Perry and Bachmann have cancelled scheduled trips to South Carolina gives a strong indication that they are preparing to pull out of the race.
That is no great surprise given their fifth and sixth place finishes in last night’s caucus with just over 18,000 votes between them.
(Update: We’ve now learned that Michele Bachmann has scrapped her entire campaign.)
Santorum will be buoyed by his success in Iowa in virtually tying with Romney who has a far bigger operation and money to burn. It owes in large part to his boots (his very own) on the ground strategy which involved him visiting all 99 counties in the state.
A look at the electoral map from Iowa demonstrates how this strategy paid off as Santorum won most counties, but Romney got more votes overall (only eight though):
While that may be encouraging for Santorum, its the kind of strategy that will not be sustainable for the deeply religious social conservative across 49 states. Equally his deeply religious roots will play well in a state like Iowa but not necessarily win votes in other, more diverse states.
See Baptist minister Mike Huckabee: He won Iowa in 2008 but war veteran John McCain got the nomination. Politico notes that he (Santorum) “doesn’t have the money or the infrastructure to keep up with Mitt Romney” and that will be crucial.
The fact too that veteran senator McCain appears likely to throw his support behind Romney will boost the former governor’s chances. As will the support of other influential players in the Republican movement such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who himself considered a White House bid.
The more support Romney can get from influential figures in the Republican movement the more beneficial it will be to a campaign that is well funded and well operated. But it just can’t seem to have much effect on that nagging doubt among voters which mainly centres on just how genuine a candidate he is.
His various “flip-flops” on hot issues such as abortion and gun rights have led to accusations of him changing his views for the purpose of political expediancy. For the past few months, voters have coalesced around other candidates, hence volatile polling data, the most volatile ever according to Gallup.
Romney’s 25 per cent problem
Rick Perry, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich have all led national polls at one point or another but further examination of their policies, their history, and their debate performances has led to their numbers slipping. Romney has benefited, although never in a convincing way as the Huffington Post’s frontpage banner headline notes this morning: “Can’t crack 25%”.
Gingrich, the former House Speaker, has had a torrid time in Iowa thanks largely to the pounding he took on his congressional record in a series of attack ads funded by a Political Action Committee with close links to Romney.
His campaign has vowed to plough on in New Hampshire. Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond struck a Churchillian tone when speaking to the state’s Union-Leader newspaper: “We will fight Romney on the airwaves, on the beaches, on Interstate 93, on WMUR and in every county.”
Libertarian Ron Paul had a solid showing in Iowa, his best presidential campaign to date and he now commands the respect of top Republican officials according to Politico’s Mike Allen, citing “a senior GOP operative” who says: “Paul running as an independent is a total, albeit unlikely, disaster, but only a little less bad is alienating his supporters with disparaging comments to the point they stay home in November.”
Paul is popular in Iowa and elsewhere but his extreme views on limiting the scope of the US’s foreign policy to practically nothing will alienate many and he will more than likely not be the nominee.
All of which leaves Romney in perhaps the strongest position.
Prior to last night’s caucus, he would privately have indicated his happiness with a strong showing in the state and that he has achieved. By the end of the month, it should be a lot clearer as to whether he is the nominee but he is certainly looking the most likely candidate to face Obama at this moment in time.