Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Romney wins Iowa. Here's why it matters

In 2008, a Republican candidate was leading in the polls in both the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary.  But, after being soundly beaten in Iowa, his numbers dipped in NH, allowing another candidate to defeat him there.  A month later, still fighting both opponents through Super Tuesday, he realized the path to the nomination, while not an impossible one, could provoke a sort of civil war within the Republican Party.  Rather than be the man responsible for a weakened candidate going into the general election that year, he suspended his campaign and threw his full-throated support behind the eventual nominee.  It was a fairly stunning act of humility, especially since it came with no discernible upside.  Until now, that is.

Mitt Romney just won the Iowa Caucuses.  His total is nearly identical to what it was in 2008 (30,021 votes then, 30,015 now).  I don't think we can know how much of that is due to his run four years ago, though I have no doubt most of his detractors will claim this is evidence he has an unbreakable ceiling of support.  On the other hand, given that he has barely campaigned in Iowa this year and only recently spent any money, compared to $10 million spent from his campaign last time and a nigh-constant presence then, it could be said that is an unbreakable floor, not a ceiling.  And, let's not forget, it is still a win.

Of course, it was a narrow win.  The second-place finisher in Iowa was former Senator Rick Santorum, who came in only eight votes shy of Romney's total.  Much will be made of this, by both Santorum's campaign and media outlets across the country and beyond; but I think we all know better.  As I said, Romney hardly campaigned in Iowa this time.  Santorum, on the other hand, has done nothing but campaign in Iowa.  You'd think he lived there these last six months, and indeed he did.  He's the only candidate to visit each of Iowa's 99 precincts.  He's held multiple events almost every day since the summer.  He had the personal endorsement of Bob Vander Plaats, the influential head of the Family Leader group.  While Romney built operations and campaign infrastructure in dozens of other states across the country, Santorum neglected every state but Iowa, which has cost him the opportunity to even compete in some later states.

And yet, despite that focus, it has only been in the last week, literally, that his numbers began to swell.  While some will claim that his devotion to Iowa is what earned him a virtual tie with the national frontrunner, his success came only at the expense of the rest of the crowd.  Rick Santorum is merely the last in a very long line of people who stood as the "Anti-Romney" in Iowa.  The fact that he was the last, after everyone else, despite his grueling efforts in the state, says as much about how little those voters wanted him to win as it does about how little they wanted Romney to win.

And even if his arduous trek across Iowa is what brought him so very close to victory, it is not a feat he can recreate in any other state; certainly not in every other state.  The old adage "work smarter, not harder" comes easily to mind in this situation.  Santorum's momentum may net him another second-place finish in a later state; but if he couldn't defeat Romney in Iowa, then he'll never defeat him anywhere else.

So, the nomination is Romney's.  That's one reason his victory tonight matters.  There's another reason, though.  History will be made in one week.  For the first time in the modern era, a nonincumbent Republican will win both the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary.  Romney has an overwhelming lead there over the entire field, so much so that most of the other candidates have already decided to skip NH.  That doesn't make his impending victory there any less significant.  Some winners in Iowa have failed to become the nominee, as have some winners in NH; but never has the Republican nominee been someone who hasn't won in at least one of those states.  And now, we'll have a candidate win both.

Heck, we could even have a candidate win every primary and caucus this year, the first nonincumbent candidate of either party to win every nominating contest.  People have been talking for over a year now about how the Tea Party and the Establishment wings of the Republican Party could split the GOP right down the middle, especially over who should be the nominee.  Well, not only does Romney already have the backing of several prominent Tea Partiers like Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Christine O'Donnell of Delaware, but he also received the endorsement of the Independence Hall Tea Party PAC, which represents Tea Parties in Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.  And, if Romney does manage to win every primary and caucus this year, how could anyone not say the GOP is unified behind one candidate?  As in 2008, Romney is working to unite the GOP behind a candidate who can win.  The only difference is, he gets to be that candidate this year.

Congratulations, Mitt Romney!

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