Reagan biographer* Craig Shirley points out that in 2008, Mitt Romney won 25.19 percent of the vote in the Iowa caucuses.
A big question will be whether he surpasses that this year. In the past four polls in Iowa, Romney finished with 23 percent, 19 percent, 24 percent, and 23 percent.
By many standards, the 2008 field of Republican competitors in Iowa was stronger than this one. Ron Paul remains, but last cycle’s class included a three-term governor with fantastic retail politicking skills (Mike Huckabee), a two-term senator famous from Hollywood and prime-time television (Fred Thompson), and two candidates who chose to not compete fully in Iowa, a four-term senator who had finished second in the 2000 presidential campaign (John McCain) and a two-term New York City mayor with a national reputation for leadership after 9/11 who was Time’s Man of the Year in 2001 (Rudy Giuliani).
This year’s crop includes a former Speaker of the House who has been out of office since 1998 (Newt Gingrich), a member of the House first elected in 2006 (Michele Bachmann), a four-term governor (Rick Perry), and a senator who lost his seat in 2006 by a landslide (Rick Santorum).
A core element of Romney’s argument is that he is the most electable Republican in the field. But if he can’t surpass his previous threshold in Iowa — or perhaps another threshold, his 30,021 votes from last cycle — one will wonder why the most-electable Romney can’t beat his previous finish against weaker competition.
(In Romney’s favor, he’s currently at 40.5 percent in the RealClearPolitics average of recent New Hampshire polls. Last cycle he finished with 31.5 percent of the vote and 75,675 votes.)
Still, another wise GOP mind points out that with Romney and Paul seeming to be assured of finishing first and second, the real contest is for the bronze medal. Ron Paul will always have his level of support but seems unlikely to break out; in a year of rapid bursts and collapses of frontrunners, Paul’s share of the vote remains between 5 percent and 15 percent in every national poll. If there will be a strong push from an anti-Romney conservative candidate, it is most likely to be the one who finishes first among Santorum, Bachmann, Perry, and Gingrich.
UPDATE: Some readers think it is worth noting that Shirley’s next book is an authorized biography of Newt Gingrich, entitled Citizen Newt: The Rise, Fall, and Future of Speaker Gingrich.