The Campaign Spot

Winning Iowa Gets You What These Days?

South Carolina gave us a lot to chew over, and Florida will reveal even more. Over on the homepage, five thoughts on the primary we just witnessed and the one to come.

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Three: The continuing irrelevance of Iowa. In the Hawkeye State, Rick Santorum pulled off the most unlikely of upsets, presented a feel-good underdog story in the first major contest of the 2012 cycle, and . . . he saw a relatively small impact on his numbers in New Hampshire. (They were raised from about 3 percent to 9 percent.) Perhaps that can be explained historically: Iowa and New Hampshire rarely agree, and Granite State Republicans are usually extremely reluctant to confirm Iowa’s choice. But in South Carolina, Santorum jumped from 3 percent to 20 percent . . . and then slid down to around 12 percent in the final polls, finishing with an acceptable — but uninspiring — 17 percent on Saturday night.

Santorum seems to be repeating the experience of Mike Huckabee, who also couldn’t translate an Iowa win into many significant victories in the subsequent states. This cycle has given critics of Iowa’s prominence a great deal of ammunition, but even if the state’s turnout had been higher and the count had been clear and no ballots had been lost, a definite pattern would remain: The rest of the country just isn’t all that enamored with the candidates Iowa likes best. Perhaps the state’s love of retail politicking and lavish personal attention from candidates is to blame, since candidates obviously can’t duplicate their 99-county tours in subsequent states . . .

Five: South Carolina presented the Republican-turnout surge we’ve been waiting for. At first glance, the stage seems set for a GOP fired up like never before: A president who many Republicans see as the breathing embodiment of liberalism sits in the Oval Office; an energetic grassroots movement to fight back spontaneously formed in the tea parties; the 2009 races in New Jersey and Virginia, the special election in Massachusetts, and the 2010 midterms all showed that Republicans can win (and win big) almost anywhere when they tap into that passion; the president’s record consists of enormously unpopular nationalized health care and a stimulus that didn’t make a dent in high unemployment. Throw in scandals such as those involving Solyndra and Fast and Furious, and Obama’s presidency represents the nightmare that every Republican would presumably be highly motivated to end.

The good news for Republicans is that in 2012 turnout has been modestly higher, but less than one might think in this seeming perfect storm for conservative outrage. In Iowa and New Hampshire, the modest increases over the 2008 records appeared to have been driven mostly by Ron Paul’s not-really-Republican voters.

But in South Carolina, that energized grassroots finally appeared at polling places in big numbers: “With 13 precincts still uncounted Sunday morning, 601,166 votes already were recorded, topping 2000’s record turnout of 537,101 and well ahead of 2008’s 445,499 voters. Earlier in the week, officials had projected a moderate turnout about equivalent to the 2008 primary.” Both Gingrich and Romney won more votes than John McCain did when he won the state in 2008.

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