Mitt Romney won the Iowa Caucuses edging a surging Rick Santorum by 8 votes. Considering that early on in the campaign Romney supporters held out little hope of a positive result in Iowa; last night’s win is a major victory. But that victory comes shrouded with some very real concerns.
As a moderate candidate Romney did not appeal to the more conservative culture in Iowa. So the campaign downplayed the contest and maintained a low key attitude about their chances. Better to keep expectations low and spin any nominal success positively than go all in and be embarrassed by defeat. But while the Romney campaign was tamping down expectations they were secretly building an infrastructure in case things turned their way.
Suddenly Romney began to gain ground as Iowa voters became more and more convinced that he was the only candidate running who could win a general election against the President. The Romney people made the calculation that a win in Iowa followed by a guaranteed victory in New Hampshire might just clinch the nomination early. So the Romney campaign went all in, and along with their supportive Super Pacs poured millions into the state. The result was a victory with 25% of the vote.
And therein lays the problem.
Mitt Romney defeated Rick Santorum by 8 votes. They both garnered 25% of the votes cast. Romney spent millions; saturating the state with campaign ads, robo calls and coffee cloches. Santorum, with little more than the clothes on his back, did it the old fashion way. He knocked on doors, shook hands and kissed babies. His first meet and greet was attended by one voter. In the end he fought Romney to a statistical tie.
Mitt Romney has been campaigning for President for the past 5 years. He has spent tens of millions of dollars in search of this goal. And yet he is in the exact same place he was 5 years ago; unable to pull in more than 25% of the vote while the other 75% keep searching for someone who is NOT Romney. For all his effort Romney has still not connected with the vast majority of Republican voters.
Prior to last night’s vote the conventional wisdom was that if Romney did well in Iowa and won New Hampshire the party would be over before it started. Not anymore. Rick Santorum’s surge changed all that. Ron Paul, who pulled in 21% of the Iowa vote isn't going anywhere either. And an angry Newt Gingrich has promised to spend his every waking moment going after Romney.
Santorum has the wind at his back; and while he has no chance in New Hampshire his evangelical message will resonate well in the next competitive contest; South Carolina. Santorum would be well served to bypass New Hampshire, conserve his resources, raise more money and make a huge push in South Carolina.
Meanwhile Romney is left to sit and wonder what he needs to do to connect with voters and break through that 25% ceiling. After Five years of campaigning and millions of dollars spent he has yet to make his case.
Mitt Romney won the Iowa Caucuses last night; but his victory was a hollow one.