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Iowa: Romney 24.6%, Santorum 24.6%, Paul 21.4%, Gingrich 13.3%     Permalink

Mitt Romney, who ran the 2002 Olympics, won a gold medal himself yesterday by winning the Iowa caucuses--but only eight votes ahead of Rick Santorum. In the Olympics, winning a race by a tenth of a second is still a win and the amount does not matter so much. Here it does. The news today will be about how Santorum is now the leading conservative challenger and how this is likely to now become a two-man race. It's not going to happen. But before getting into more detail, here are the raw numbers.

Candidates Votes Pct
Mitt Romney 30,015 24.6%
Rick Santorum 30,007 24.6%
Ron Paul 26,219 21.4%
Newt Gingrich 16,251 13.3%
Rick Perry 12,604 10.3%
Michelle Bachmann 6,073 5.0%
Jon Huntsman 745 0.6%
No preference 135 0.1%
Other 117 0.1%
Herman Cain 58 0.0%

Rick Santorum's rise from the politically dead (he lost his last election by 17%) might be considered amazing, but it isn't. Santorum was simply the last man standing after all the other not-Romney wannabes flamed out. Another way to look at the caucus results is that more than 3/4 of the Iowa caucus goers rejected front-runner Romney, despite his spending millions of dollars and campaigning for 5 years. His good fortune was that they were badly splintered over four or five deeply flawed opponents (depending on whether you consider Jon Huntsman deeply flawed or even an opponent since he skipped Iowa completely).

The big question is what happens next. Central to the race going forward is how fast the field consolidates. Although she did beat Jon Huntsman (who never appeared in the state) and Herman Cain (who dropped out a month ago), with 5% of the vote, Michelle Bachmann is toast. If 5% is the best she could do in her native state, she'll be lucky to hit 2% in New Hampshire, which is fairly hostile to her brand of conservatism. Possibly she'll call it quits before New Hampshire although she might conceivably skip New Hampshire and make a last stand in South Carolina, thus helping Romney by keeping the field splintered. Who cares about the cause when your ego is at stake? One factor that might keep her going for a little while though is the two debates that will take place in New Hampshire this weekend and two more in South Carolina after that. She could pray hard that her opponents all stumble badly and she miraculously survives. But it's a longshot.

Bachmann is an amusing sideshow, but Rick Perry was supposed to be one of the main acts. But with 10% of the vote and 5th place, it will be hard to spin that as a Texas-sized victory. Instead of heading to New Hampshire or South Carolina, he is going home to Texas today to reassess his campaign. It wouldn't be surprising if he were to throw in the towel this week as coming in fifth in an evangelical-heavy caucus has to be a huge embarrassment.

In the New Hampshire primary next Tuesday, there is another factor to be considered: Jon Huntsman, who was all but ignored in Iowa. Last week he said: "They pick corn in Iowa. They pick presidents in New Hampshire." This was not calculated to endear him to the hearts of Iowa voters, but it won't hurt in New Hampshire. New Hampshire is a quirky state with a long history of defying expectations (remember all those polls saying Barack Obama was going to crush Hillary Clinton there in 2008?). For the 75% of Republicans who don't like Romney, Huntsman might well be a viable alternative. He is a more consistent conservative than Romney and, like him, a former governor, so he has executive experience. Although he has not raised much money, his family is extremely wealthy and he could self-fund the campaign if he wants to. The main rap against him is that he served as Obama's ambassador to China and many Republicans consider him a traitor for doing this. His reply has to be John McCain's campaign slogan: "Country first." The President asked him to serve his country and he put country ahead of party. It could work.

Ron Paul is a special case. All the other candidates are in the race to win. Paul doesn't expect to win and doesn't care. He is simply trying to get more attention to his ideas. In that sense, he, rather, than Newt Gingrich, is really the ideas person. The trouble is that most Republicans find many of his ideas abhorrent, especially on foreign policy. A former aide of his, Eric Dondero, has said Paul wishes the state of Israel did not exist at all, for example. Paul has enough money and nothing else to do (he is retiring from Congress) so he will surely continue for a few more primaries, possibly gathering delegates that could be bartered if no nominee has half the 2,286 delegates needed come August. If he continues to do well for a while, he might ultimately decide to run as a third-party candidate, as he did in 1988.

So what is Obama thinking today? First, he is probably sad that Gingrich and Perry did so poorly. He knows that Santorum is going to come in for withering fire as a washed-up loser from the Romney-allied superPACS in the coming weeks and is unlikely to be a long-term threat to Romney. Obama is probably also strongly hoping that Huntsman wins New Hampshire, instantly creating a credible rival to Romney. Other than that, Obama's team is probably full steam ahead thinking about a Romney-Obama general election.

Here are some lessons from Iowa:

      - Retail politics (a la Santorum) still matters
      - Money and organization aren't enough if the candidate is too weak (Perry)
      - Luck plays a role (Romney ran against a weak and badly splintered field)
      - Early polls are meaningless (Santorum's rise occurred in the final week)
      - Voters hate attack ads but they work very well (they took out Gingrich)
      - Three quarters of Republicans don't like Mitt Romney all that much

No doubt a lot will happen in the coming week as things start to sort themselves out.

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Previous headlines

Jan03 All Eyes on Iowa Today
Jan03 The Horse Race as a Horse Race
Jan01 Happy New Presidential Election Year
Jan01 Iowa Caucuses Are This Tuesday
Jan01 Final Selzer Poll: Romney and Paul on top but Santorum Rising
Dec16 No Fireworks in Final GOP Debate
Dec11 Romney Offers Perry a $10,000 Bet During Debate
Dec11 Where is Sarah Palin?
Dec11 The 2012 Contest: Whole Foods Clients vs. Cracker Barrel Shoppers
Dec07 Gingrich Way Ahead in Iowa
Dec07 Obama Gives Fiery Speech Attacking the Republicans
Dec07 Pelosi Backtracks on Releasing Dirt
Dec04 Herman Cain Drops Out
Dec04 Gingrich Pulls Away in Iowa
Nov29 Woman Accuses Cain of Long-Running Affair
Nov23 Romney's Extended Family Could be a Problem
Nov23 Republicans Ignore China, Eurocrisis in Debate on Foreign Affairs
Nov19 Newton Defies Gravity
Nov10 Perry Stumbles Badly in Debate
Nov09 Anti-Union Bill Repealed in Ohio
Nov09 Republicans May Take over Virginia State Senate
Nov09 An Egg is Not a Person in Mississippi
Nov06 Romney's Choice
Oct22 Cain First, Romney Real Winner in NV Straw Poll
Oct12 Mitt the Inevitable?
Oct06 Steve Jobs and Politics
Oct06 Palin Will Not Run for President
Sep30 Senate Races 2012

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