Decision 2012: After IowaWritten by Ben Osburn | | email@example.com
The 2012 presidential campaign season officially kicked off Jan. 3 with the contested Iowa caucus. This year’s caucus was the closest for the Republicans in its history. Former Massachusetts governor and alleged front-runner Mitt Romney beat former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum by the incredibly slim margin of eight votes. Both Romney and Santorum were able to get 25 percent of the vote, but Romney’s 30,015 vote count topped Santorum’s 30,007.
There were many surprises throughout the night. Perhaps the biggest surprise was Santorum’s surge in the polls. The final Des Moines Register poll taken in late December put him at 15 percent, with a 5-point margin of error.
Santorum spent the most time of any of the candidates in Iowa, visiting all 99 counties at least once. He was able to almost win with the least amount of money in his campaign chest, a little over $1 million. He scored very well with both tea party conservatives and evangelicals, which together represent a large portion of the electorate in Iowa. Thirty-two percent of Iowan evangelicals voted for Santorum, almost double than voted for Ron Paul.
Many politicos relate Santorum’s 2012 finish to that of Mike Huckabee’s in 2008. True followers might want to shy away from this, however, as Huckabee was not able to finish in the top two in the last cycle. Santorum’s win equates to seven delegates for him going into New Hampshire. It remains to be seen how well he will do there, where Romney is winning with 40 percent of the vote.
Perhaps the most surprising disappointment of the night was the performance of Michele Bachmann. Bachmann, a Minnesota congresswoman, was born and raised in Waterloo, Iowa. Bachmann is a one of the central voices of the tea party movement and even co-founded the Tea Party Caucus.
Her campaign looked promising last summer, as she was able to win the Ames Straw Poll, but candidates like Newt Gingrich quickly began to overshadow her in the polls. In late December, her Iowa state chairman Kent Sorenson resigned from her campaign to join Ron Paul’s, a move she claimed was for monetary purposes. Ultimately, Bachmann was not able to rebound and finished with 5 percent of the Iowa vote. She suspended her campaign the next day. Texas governor Rick Perry and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich also ended up with disappointing results, finishing with two delegates each.
One large question is whether Romney’s narrow win can even be considered a success for his campaign; the answer contains elements of both yes and no. Romney finished with the same percentage of the votes in Iowa that he did in 2008; 25 percent. In a race in which the GOP field seems weak to many, Romney should have fared much better, especially given his front-runner status.
His weak performance could mean that conservatives just do not view him as conservative enough, and they still want their “anti-Romney” candidate. However, the fact that Romney spent little time in Iowa compared to the other candidates and was still able to win could mean that he has a solid Republican base. According to entrance polls, what Iowans agreed on is that Romney is the best candidate to beat Obama and the best one to fix the economy. Above all, this statistic should give the Romney campaign peace of mind going into New Hampshire.
Columnist Benjamin Osburn is a graduate student in political science at the University of Toledo. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.