WASHINGTON - Two clear winners emerge from the Iowa Caucuses on Tuesday night, notes Jim Ellis, NACS political consultant and expert poll analyst: Massachusetts former Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.
Ellis notes that both men scored about 25% of the vote, with the latest tally [as of press time] actually showing Romney leading by a scant eight votes of the more than 60,000 votes cast between the two of them.?Attempting to project ahead for the long term, since 49 other states still must cast their votes, it is difficult to see another candidate other than Romney having the staying power to claim the nomination throughout the grueling 50-state nomination process.
But the candidates who didn't perform well might be the bigger short-term story. After spending what will likely calculate to more than $500 per vote he received when the financial accounting becomes final, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has returned to Austin to ponder as to whether he should continue his campaign. Fellow Texan Ron Paul also underperformed, although many polls and predictions suggested that he would win the Iowa Caucuses.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) just barely cracked 6,000 votes and has since backed out of her presidential bid. During the Iowa Straw Poll, which she won back in August, her grand total was 4,823. Growing by so little in the ensuing months between the Straw Poll and the full Caucus vote suggests that her campaign will soon come to an end.
Ellis suggests that it has always been the conventional wisdom that if a candidate could isolate Romney, said individual wins. Santorum is moving onto New Hampshire despite Romney enjoying big leads there in polling. If he can place a clear second, it might be enough to secure the mantel as the Massachusetts former Governor's top challenger.
South Carolina would then become hugely important. If Santorum can upend Romney there, his national campaign could quickly become real. The fact that the Republicans are returning to a more traditional primary and caucus schedule, meaning the majority of the states are voting after Super Tuesday (March 6), could favor the late-breaking candidate and not Romney. If the eight-vote statewide Iowa margin stands, it will of course be the closest primary or caucus victory in presidential campaign history.
Ellis notes that it was clear predictions that many Democrats and Independents would come to the Caucuses to re-register Republican and vote for Ron Paul did not materialize. Even in the key college counties of Johnson (University of Iowa) and Story (Iowa State University), Paul failed to place first. Romney carried both places, albeit only by 10 votes in Story.?The only candidate other than Santorum, Romney and Paul to carry any county was Perry. He won in both Taylor and Union Counties, two southern Iowa entities that border each other.
Ellis says that a candidate who travels the state and works in a grassroots, one-on-one fashion can score big in the Iowa Caucuses. Santorum understood this and played his strategy well. Moving to the larger states like Florida and California, where such campaigning is virtually impossible, will prove more daunting tasks for last Tuesday night€™s surprise candidate.
Santorum is clearly the big surprise coming from Iowa. It is clear this race has a long way to go.