This is my quadrennial tradition of writing a post bemoaning how overrated the Iowa caucus is. Seriously. 120,000 people participated in the Iowa Republican caucuses last night, and that is supposedly a record high. That’s a little over 5% of the Iowa electorate. And that’s a record turnout.
If you added all the votes cast in the Iowa GOP Caucus last night, you’d get the same number of votes Republican candidate Matt Dolan got in 2010 in the Cuyahoga County Executive election alone (and that was only a little over 30% of the vote). John Kasich and Ted Strickland got over five times that amount in their respective uncontested primaries last year. 18% of the winners of the 2010 Ohio House of Representatives races got more votes than Mitt Romney got in his victory in the entire GOP Iowa Caucus. Where’s their Time magazine cover?
And what collective wisdom do we get out of the Iowa caucus? Republicans group around three general groups: 1) Social conservatives (Santorium), 2) Rockfeller business Republicans (Romney), and libertarians (Paul.) Wow! Thanks Iowa for that political insight! Oh, and Mitt Romney is the front-runner and prohibitive favorite, but the social conservatives and libertarians aren’t sold. Again, something I didn’t know until last night.
I know the conventional wisdom is to talk about how Mitt didn’t move the needle from four years and how unimpressive his margin of victory was (it was a margin that would barely fill up the roster of a National, but not American, League baseball team. So what, he won. These primaries and caucuses tend to be more about how many races a candidate won than the margin of victory (See, Hillary Clinton vs. Obama ‘08). A win is a win. In less than a week, Mitt Romney is largely expected to win New Hampshire, and the polls indicate by a substantial margin (Romney is polling at 42%, the closest challenger is Ron Paul… at 14%).
You know the last Republican candidate to win both Iowa and New Hampshire, but not win the nomination for President? His name was Jack Squat, that’s who.
Let’s assume that the polls change and Santorum surges ahead of Romney in South Carolina. Given that Romney is likely to have already gone 2-0, and South Carolina’s social conservatism makes it a “must win” expectation for Santorum, where does Santorum go from South Carolina, even if he does win despite Tea Party Governor Nikki Haley’s endorsement of Mittens? Seriously, look at the calendar and tell him how Santorum can organize and raise enough money to compete nationally despite representing a very narrow segment of the GOP base that is not very strong outside of the Southeast part of the country.
Do you think Rick Santorum has a campaign operation that can outwork Mitt Romney on Super Tuesday come March 6th? Really.
Look, the only way last night’s results could have been better for Romney is if it had been a total blowout win for him, which nobody expected him to do. Heck, it was only a few weeks ago the idea that Romney could win Iowa at all seemed far-fetched. Romney may not have done better in Iowa numbers wise as he did in 2008, but he won and did not underperform expectations.
Maybe Ron Paul’s strong-ish third place finish in Iowa helps him gather momentum in New Hampshire, and Santorum can use Iowa to boast his South Carolina numbers. But do either really have the campaign organization and infrastructure to compete with Romney’s?
Seriously, if you’re Mitt Romney’s campaign, and you had to pick who else gets there ticket punched out of Iowa, wouldn’t you pray it’s Santorum and Paul? What you don’t want it to be is Perry (cause he had the money behind him to go the distance if he had performed well in Iowa) or Newt (who can achieve more in free media than any other candidate in the running.) Newt single-handedly became the front runner simply on his debate performances, for goodness sake. Did Iowa really teach us that Newt can have a vindictive streak to those he perceives as wronging him? Really?
So you want Perry out early and Newt bloodied up. Check. You want two “opponents” to be your chief rivals who have limited appeal, scare the bejesus out of other segments of the voting base, and have no real chance of taking the nomination from you. Check. Check.
Is Romney facing a long slog to the nomination? Hardly. And that’s yet another reason why Iowa was irrelevant. All it did was “confirm” what we suspected. That Mitt Romney is the one-eyed king of the Land of the GOP Blind.