Well, that was certainly an interesting experience last night. Watching the Iowa caucus returns roll in you could tell the on-air pundits were not expecting a close race. The final tally? Mitt Romney over Rick Santorum by eight points, and at 30,015 votes Romney was just six votes shy of his 2008 appearance. My thoughts on each of the candidates, in order of vote tallies:
Mitt Romney – Wins the night, vote wise, I suppose. Like Jonathan Bernstein often says, the Iowa caucus is more about the spin and narrative than anything else. The missing narrative may be that up until December no one expected Romney to do well in Iowa. Now? The narrative is why didn’t he do better? Why the unacknowledged change? Being the presumptive winner the media has no other choice but to compare his performance to 2008.
He got fewer votes than 2008, which netted him second place behind Mike Huckabee.
He lost seven counties compared to 2008.
Rick Santorum – Also wins the night for emerging as the top candidate in the Not-Romney race. Yet for conservative evangelical voters in Iowa Santorum was the perfect mix of values, electability, and loyalty to the ground game they so enjoy. It’s interesting that he garnered the largest share of self-identified Tea Party supporters, ahead of Tea Party Caucus leader Michelle Bachmann. Though he’s talking the talk on big government spending – as they all are – his record in the Senate very much does not jive with Tea Party narrative on spending and taxation.
Ron Paul – Oh, Ron Paul. So much could be said here. Firstly, he did much better this time around than 2008 – winning 16 more counties and 14,378 more votes. BUT, if you look at the top three spots through self-identified Republican voters he didn’t fare well – 28-27-14, with Paul being at 14%. Ultimately this is a Republican nominating process, and anything less than a win or close second place showing means Paul continues in the same vein as his ’08 camping – namely, raising awareness for his beliefs and possible laying the groundwork for a future run by his son Rand Paul.
Newt Gingrich – A short rise and even quicker fall, Newt failed to carry a single county. Did terrible with 17-29 year olds, and spent his post-Iowa speech embodying the idea of hypocritical irony blasting Mitt Romney for negative SuperPAC ads. The media has already picked up on the narrative of Newt staying in solely to play Romney attack dog, and I can’t really blame them.
Rick Perry – Spent more money on T.V. ads than anyone else, got 10.6% of the vote for it. Seriously, this was Perry’s state to lose when he got into the race, and though it looks like he’ll stay in after the Bachmann exit he’s got a mighty tall hill to climb in securing the nomination.
Michelle Bachmann – Michelle, Michelle, Michelle. After winning the Ames Straw poll Bachmann had all the momentum in Iowa before Perry stepped in, and after he faltered she never took up the slack. Perhaps most surprisingly she garnered a mere 6% of the evangelical vote, less than half of Romney’s support in the same category. Maybe it was the complete lack of grounding in reality, or the mass staff exodus in October that sunk her campaign. Either way she’s gone, gone, gone. My question? Who will take up her mantle of Defender Against the Evil Socialist Onslaught that is Barack Obama?
Unofficial winner of Iowa Caucus – Pizza Ranch, a place that I’ve read many a reporter’s tweet describe as “terrible.”
The only other note I’ll make is on the turnout. In 2008, a year that many in the media described as a lackluster momentum year for the GOP, there were 118,000 votes in the Republican Iowa Caucus. This time around they registered 122,255, a paltry gain of 4,255. Where’s the enthusiasm, GOP? This supposed to be your election to lose, and not showing up is a good way achieve that status.