Presuming the final results are similar to what we see at this hour, it is a mildly disappointing result for Romney, since he and his supporters sounded like they expected a solid win tonight. His percentage of the vote and vote total are likely to be below his final totals for the 2008 campaign, when he finished well behind Mike Huckabee. Having said that, very little that happened tonight is going to impact his lead in New Hampshire, and so a week from tonight he should be celebrating a big win in New Hampshire to go with a finish that is either first or a close second or (increasingly unlikely) a still-close third.
The night’s big winner is Rick Santorum. But the experience of Huckabee should be something of a warning sign to Santorum. Iowa’s caucusgoers, as a group, are different from Republican primary voters in most states. They’re more heavily focused on social issues, and they reward enormous time and effort in the state. Obviously, Santorum can’t replicate his Iowa effort in many other states.
A big question about Santorum has been whether he can assemble a campaign infrastructure in all the states to come, but somehow I suspect that the considerable number of anybody-but-Romney Republicans will eagerly step forward and help assemble that infrastructure. If the race comes down to Romney and Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator will have access to funds from the grassroots. Perhaps not enough to go toe-to-toe with Romney, but enough to make it competitive.
Ron Paul . . . how do you evaluate a candidate like Ron Paul? According to the entrance polls, 38 percent of caucusgoers had never voted in a GOP caucus before; of those, by far the largest share, 37 percent, voted for Ron Paul. Among the registered so-called independents who took part in the caucus, 48 percent voted for Ron Paul, way ahead of anyone else. Next-highest was Romney with 16 percent. He’s a Republican candidate for those who hate all of the other Republican candidates. With no Democratic presidential primary to compete for the anti-war vote, he should do well in every open primary from here on out.
Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Michele Bachmann all had bad nights. There will be talk of Bachmann dropping out, but as I have noted, we have seen a state with just under 1 percent of the U.S. population vote. Why should she deny 99 percent of the country the chance to vote? Having said that, if she can’t get more than a few percentage points in Iowa, where would she break out?
Oh, and the Ames Straw Poll should be ignored forevermore.