Romney 25%, Santorum 25%, Paul 21%, Gingrich 13%, Perry 10%, Bachmann 5%, Huntsman 1%
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised from the hung result of Tuesday night’s Iowa Caucus. After all, Republicans had spent the better part of a year not being able to make up their minds on an eventual nominee- why should Iowans? To that end, Iowa voters reflected what we already knew. Mitt Romney spent the entire campaign straddling the 25% line nationally. He finished with 25% of the vote. Disaffected anti-Mitt conservatives, yearning for that perfect conservative foe from a series of fleeting foils, are still looking. First Michele Bachmann, then Rick Perry, then Herman Cain, then Newt Gingrich . . . now Rick Santorum turns up as those irreconcilable to Romney go through every last card in the deck. Thirdly, the question of quirky Congressman Ron Paul was answered: his (extremely) vocal supporters left the message boards and online polls to double their beloved’s vote from four years ago. But he still finished third in a race some polls had projected him to win.
What was more clear than the razor thin result is who will not be going forward. Attrition is often an unfortunate side effect as contestants are voted off the landlocked island. Michele Bachmann- destitute since her purchase of the Ames Straw Poll this summer, and clinically dead at least since her baffling anti-vaccine stand- turned in an embarrassing result. Her long sought-after resuscitation never came, coming in a very distant last-place and mustering a mere 5%. She teased an exit in her concession speech, but even her most diehard supporters here- who would fit comfortably in the student section of Carver-Hawkeye Arena- must realize there is no hope. Her own campaign chair- who has not yet defected to the Ron Paul campaign- even left open the question of whether or not she would officially continue.
Next in line came Governor Perry, who was more clear about reassessing his campaign. Like the case of Bachmann, True Value Hardware had run out of nails to drive in to Perry’s campaign coffin. After a summer fling with conservatives, Perry spent the autumn and winter in fast-forward free fall. His debates were a messy, explosive disaster equal to any Michael Bay-directed spectacle. The result tonight was a concession speech in which he wondered allowed whether he could continue to South Carolina. That anyone, including 10% of Iowa Republicans, still takes Perry seriously should be counted as a minor miracle at this point. After one of the most astonishing chokes in recent memory, Perry would be advised to take his Fort Knox war chest back to Austin- and serve out his term as Governor for Life.
Tonight was also as disappointing a result for the former Speaker of the House as it was vintage Gingrich. His fourth-place, 13% result was not ultimately surprising. That he dropped 20 points in 20 days in Iowa is. Gingrich rode his December wave as flavor of the month expecting to snatch the nomination from Romney, largely by magic. We were asked, as Charlie Cook observed, to believe that money, infrastructure, boots on the ground, ads on the air, paid staff and seasoned strategists were irrelevant compared to a few good performances in nationally-televised debates. When Paul and Romney’s negative ads knocked him off message, he was unable to respond. . . and returned to his old bad habits- the same ones that crippled his campaign in the spring, the same ones that cost him his Speakership. Is there a path to the nomination for Newt? Maybe, but it is not nearly the clear path, two-man race it appeared to be just last month.
It remains to be seen, as it was for the previous anti-Romneys, how much staying power the former Pennsylvania Senator has, surging from worst to (almost) first in Iowa. Lacking the funds, multi-state infrastructure and elite-level support of Mitt Romney, success in a protracted campaign seems unlikely. Additionally, he lacks the geographic base of last cycle’s Caucus winner, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. What *could* carry him is the support of conservative media- particularly in the blogosphere and on the radio- to a long-shot Christine O’Donnell-like scenario, where Mark Levin was practically her campaign chair in Delaware’s Senate primary. Given the choice between a man the irreconcilables have hated for five years and somebody- anybody- else, who could wake them from their fickle slumber better than Rush? Then again, there’s plenty of time for those surge-and-decline voters to go somewhere else: Jon Huntsman is waiting.
Brendan is a graduate student at Portland State University, where he hosts the KPSU “Right Jab” radio program, and a regular contributor at Oregon Catalyst. Brendan is studying political science, and graduated from The Ohio State University in 2007, with a degree in political science.