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1/4/2012
A Razor Thin Victory for Romney

But it was Santorum that was the night’s true winner.

My take on the caucus results up today on FPM.

Every four years we hear the same complaints about Iowa being “First in the Nation” to register an opinion on the presidential candidates for both parties. It’s too white, or it’s too rural, or Evangelical Christians are too plentiful. It doesn’t matter. The state jealously guards its status as the initial test for the candidates and the Republican National Committee appears to be in no mood to change its privileged position.

That said, the caucuses can be seen as a rudimentary test of strength and popularity with GOP voters and as such, it begins the winnowing process that usually claims one or two candidates who decide not to move on to New Hampshire. The most likely casualty from Tuesday night’s festivities could be Michele Bachmann who told pre-caucus audiences that she had already “bought our tickets to go to South Carolina” in order to compete in that state’s primary on January 21. But a sixth place finish in Iowa and with little money and not much of an organization in the Palmetto State, it seems a quixotic quest for her to hope that lightening would strike and bring her victory there.

Rick Perry’s weak 5th place finish has dealt a body blow to his campaign. But the candidate swears he will move on to South Carolina, skipping New Hampshire to concentrate on the far friendlier climes of the Palmetto State. But in his speech after the caucuses ended, Perry hinted that he may drop out after all. He is returning to Texas to “reassess” his campaign.

Newt Gingrich finished a distant 4th, but will soldier on, at least through the South Carolina primary and perhaps all the way to Florida which holds its contest on January 31. For the former speaker of the House, it’s gotten personal. The barrage of negative ads from Romney independent groups tore him down and severely damaged his candidacy. Newt has already demonstrated that he is taking off the gloves and will go after Romney hard wherever they are competing. Whether that is a winning strategy for him remains to be seen.

As for Jon Huntsman’s last place finish, he wasn’t competing in Iowa anyway, saving his money and spending all of his time in New Hampshire, hoping for a strong showing in territory that has proven friendly to more moderate Republicans in the past. While Romney seems to be extending his lead in the Granite State, Huntsman figures a strong second will allow him to move on to other primaries later this month.

It’s all about perception, of course. “Exceeding expectations” - or not - is the name of the game. In that contest, Rick Santorum has aced the Iowa test. How he did it is not complicated. The former Pennsylvania senator held a staggering 358 town hall meetings in the last year, visited every one of Iowa’s 99 counties, and counted on a volunteer network of churches, pastors, and Christian activists who worked tirelessly on his behalf. If national pundits believed that retail politics were not as important in Iowa as debate performances and paid advertising, they might want to rethink that formula after Santorum’s effort in 2012.

With the momentum he will get from his Iowa campaign, Santorum is seeing a huge increase in his fundraising. A Santorum staffer told CNN that “the campaign raised more money in the last week than they raised on-line the past six months.” He added that “fundraising is between 300% and 400% higher on a daily basis than it was just ten days ago.” The candidate raised only $700,000 in the third quarter and ended up at the end of the year with just $190,000 in cash.

But the rocket-powered boost in fundraising has already fueled some ad buys in New Hampshire, and next week, Santorum will begin to run ads in South Carolina. It is likely that he will preserve most of his cash for that primary, and make little more than a token effort in New Hampshire. South Carolina has picked the eventual Republican nominee for the last 30 years and Santorum is expected to run strongly in one of the most conservative states in the union.

The entrance polls revealed that Santorum cleaned up with conservative Christians, winning 30% of those voters who made up nearly 60% of caucus attendees. He also did very well with those who identified themselves as “very conservative” - a good omen for his efforts to come in South Carolina.

Interesting speculation today that perhaps it’s Jon Huntsman’s turn to be the “not Romney” candidate. Santorum will almost certainly all but bypass New Hampshire and save his limited resources for South Carolina. Are we going to see another back of the pack candidate surge to the front in New Hampshire?

Stay tuned.

By: Rick Moran at 12:39 pm
One Response to “A Razor Thin Victory for Romney”
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