Welcome to 2012!
As we say goodbye to a convulsive 2011, we could end up with an even stranger 2012 -at least in the world of politics. President Santorum?! Really? Although still in the 'unlikely' category, Rick Santorum's surging Presidential campaign was given a rocket boost as a result of his Iowa caucuses performance last night. Whoever has said that "my vote doesn't count" should look at those 8 votes that separated Romney from second-place finisher Santorum.
What happened in Iowa and what does it mean?
1. Santorum ran a high-road 'retail' campaign - visiting all 99 precincts across the state, while Romney focused on the main media markets and a massive advertising buy. In Iowa, that matters. They want to see and meet the candidates.
2. Santorum exceeded voter expectations, while Romney barely met them. Bachman, Perry, Cain and, finally, Gingrich were the 'flavor of the month' candidates set to take down Mitt Romney but each fell to earth as their negatives weighed down their positives. Iowa caucuses' voters decided in the final days that Santorum - who had a clean personal storyline, communicated a humble and sincere personality, and whose conservative social values reflected theirs more than Romney's - fit the bill. Romney initially had signaled that he was not going to focus on Iowa, but changed his mind in the final weeks - ramping up his attacks on Gingrich and his 'robo-calls' and began to predict victory. The result was that even though he won by 8 votes, he barely met expectations.
3. Ron Paul is not going away. The Libertarian Congressman's voters are deeply devoted to him and his respectable third-place showing will serve him well in New Hampshire next week. Although he has apparently ruled out a third-party candidacy, don't bet the mortgage on it.
4. Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann's campaigns are dead in the water. Iowa's results made that abundantly clear. Perry flying home to Texas to 'reassess' his campaign speaks volumes for the reality check that Iowa gave him. Although Michele Bachmann's 5% result was devastating, her speech indicates she still wants to fight. However, that appears to be a fantasy after last night, and she may well be figuring out her best bargaining chip to leverage to be on the Republican ticket.
5. Gingrich will hang in as long as he can - if only to deny Romney the nomination. Notice the nice things he said about Santorum? His bitterness towards Romney and his negative ads seems to have given him fuel for the fire. But he will have to stop the slide from his late November peak if he's going to stay in the race past South Carolina.
6. Although it's still Romney's to lose, the Iowan results do reinforce that he he has a ceiling on his vote that he will have to raise. The Republicans are increasingly looking for a candidate that can beat Obama in November, so Romney must continue to win - yes even by 8 votes - in order to build that perception of winnability. John McCain's endorsement this week in New Hampshire will attempt to cement that perception. They aren't ever going to love him; but they need to respect him.
Finally, whoever is going to win the Republican nomination must keep front and center, the ultimate November ballot box question will be 'who can I trust to get the economy moving again?'
Until next time......