The Road Ahead

January 4th, 2012 at 8:44 am | 7 Comments |

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In the wake of the Iowa caucuses, what matters now is not the exact order of Romney, Santorum, and Paul; the numbers are very close. What does matter is the range between the candidates. Iowa gives us basically a tie between Romney and Santorum, with both at around 25%. Ron Paul comes out a strong third at around 21%. Gingrich, Perry, Bachmann, and Huntsman, who did not even campaign in Iowa, fall far behind.

Romney did not sew up the nomination tonight, but he took a significant step down the road to the nomination. A few months ago, Romney was polling in the high teens and low twenties in Iowa. Since July, he has had relatively few days where he was in the lead. So a tie today is a not-insignificant accomplishment. It is, however, a limited one: he still remains under 26%. A big win in New Hampshire would be helpful for Romney in breaking the Romney-ceiling narrative. And Romney’s people shouldn’t be too depressed about the fact that Romney performed at about the same level in 2008 in Iowa: Reagan lost the Iowa caucuses to Ford in 1976 and lost them again to George HW Bush in 1980—he couldn’t get above 30% in 1980. Somehow, Reagan still won the nomination, and the presidency, in 1980.

This is a hard night for Rick Perry. He spent more than any other candidate in Iowa and is stuck in fifth place. With Perry’s declaration that he is going back to Texas to re-access his path to the nomination, his campaign is in critical condition. Newt Gingrich can’t be too happy, either. A few weeks after boasting that he would be the nominee, he is stuck with a disappointing fourth-place showing. Moreover, the path to the nomination for Michele Bachmann now seems almost totally closed down.

Independents were responsible for Ron Paul’s performance tonight. Among Republicans, the entrance poll reports the following: 28% Santorum, 27% Romney, and 14% Paul. Among independents, however, the numbers were 44% Paul, 18% Romney, and 13% Santorum. The “independent” number shows a big increase from the 2008 Republican caucuses; with the Democratic caucuses uncontested this year, many Democratic-leaners may have come out for Paul. Due to a number of reasons, it seems quite clear that many Democrats would love to run against Paul.

And, of course, this was a very good night for Rick Santorum. The outstanding question is whether Iowa is a one-off or a route to the nomination. For George W. Bush, it was the latter. For Mike Huckabee, it was the former. Look to see whether Rick Santorum’s numbers rise in national polling over the next few days. If they do, those looking for a not-Romney might rally around him.

Santorum has wisely decided to contest the New Hampshire primary. Expanding his brand there will be crucial for maintaining his momentum. There’s a reason why many Perry supporters and Gingrich supporters are deriding Santorum’s chances of getting the nomination: he’s a serious threat to them. If momentum starts to accrue to Santorum, we might see Gingrich and, possibly, Perry focus their fire on him rather than on Romney. We might also see Gingrich choose instead to focus on tearing down Romney in order to keep him from getting the nomination—whether that leads to a Gingrich victory or not. Santorum’s victory speech tonight presents a less angry Santorum, one focusing on economic growth and social optimism. Like Romney, he has won in Democratic-leaning areas before.

A few points about the future:

The January 10 New Hampshire Primary: Look at Santorum’s and Huntsman’s performances. A decent showing in New Hampshire can keep Santorum nationally viable. Huntsman needs a strong showing to keep his campaign vital.

The January 21 South Carolina Primary: This could be a bloody, bloody battlefield. It’s hard to see how both Gingrich and Perry make it out of this primary, if they both make it to that point. Perry is especially vulnerable here; Gingrich could have strong, though not winning, numbers and still limp on to Florida. A Romney win here would almost guarantee him the nomination, though he in no way needs to win in order to maintain his leading status. Santorum’s numbers will also bear watching.

Originally Posted at A Certain Enthusiasm.

Recent Posts by Fred Bauer

7 Comments so far ↓

  • lilmanny

    Now that the primaries are here and actual events are happening fast and furiously, Santorum’s terrible electability and record may become less of a story than the lead up to the primaries. That could benefit him greatly in South Carolina, assuming Perry and Gingrich focus their fire on Romney, as Bauer states.

    The two things to watch: whether Romney dominates in NH. If he does, but falters in SC, the process is still alive, but is dependent on how close he comes to second in SC. If he does not dominate in NH, and fails in SC, the game really is on. Of course, if he wins both….yawn. The other thing to watch is how the Establishment reacts to Santorum. Do they allow him to have his time in the spotlight and get crushed by voters, or do they cut him down before undecided voters have a chance to hear the wackiness and outright meanness that define him? Do Gingrich and Perry decided to commit hari-kari and attack Santorum for the good of the party and the nation, or do they commit hari-kari upon the party and stab at Romney and strengthen Santorum?

    • Traveler

      My bet is on the latter. Pass the popcorn. This is getting more fun by the moment.

  • Dex

    Paul Begala managed to pack the most fact-based and informative analysis of last night into a single tweet: “In 08 Romney got 30,021 votes. Last night he got 30,015. Mitt & his SuperPAC spent $4 mill to lose 6 votes.”

    • dante

      I was going to re-quote this if nobody else had. I can’t keep thinking that FF is *desperately* trying to spin this as a positive for Romney, to the point that the story could well have been written ahead of time (“as long as it’s close, we go with story B”). Romney went from “low twenties” a few months ago to…. 24.6%. Voters have coalesced around a few candidates, including Paul and Santorum, but Romney hasn’t *gained* anyone in the past few months. You’d expect that people would have polled one way (stating their preference like Bachmann, Perry, Gingrich, etc), but when it came down to *actually* putting a vote down on a piece of paper they often ditch the nobodies and go with one of the main candidates. Look at Dean/Kerry in ’04; Dean (the less-credible candidate) was polling well up until the caucuses started, and lost in a landslide. Kerry (the more-credible candidate) jumped ~10pts between polling and voting.

      Nobody jumped to Romney. He had the same supporters as ever, but that was it. I’m sorry, but that’s *not* a positive…

  • rbottoms

    So it comes down to a contest between Dumb and Dumberer

  • Graychin

    I listened to the “victory” speeches of both Santorum and Romney last night on the internet radio – in bed. I was struck by the difference in tone of the two men.

    Santorum’s alleged “values” and God-talk always make me feel a bit sick to my stomach, but he managed to sound very happy, and painted his version of a positive future for America.

    Romney, on the other hand, started in immediately on his Obama-bashing. He had little positive to say, only that he was the one to save America from the unparalleled disaster awaiting America with another Obama term. The disasters we need saving from?

    - All the debt being run up – by Obama.
    - “Obamacare”
    - Europeanism.
    - Failure to create any jobs. “Made the economy worse.”
    - And a bunch of other imaginary stuff.

    I swear, the only way you can tell that Romney is lying is if you notice his lips moving. And sometimes, you can even tell on the radio, without seeing him.

    By the way – Romney got 30,000 votes last night. Uncontested Obama got 25,000 to turn out at Democratic caucuses. Enthusiasm gap?

    • dante

      Romney also started talking tough on Iran, too… *Not* exactly the type of talk I want to hear if I’m a Ron Paul supporter.