Now that the Iowa caucus has concluded with an eight vote “victory” for Mitt Romney, what are we to conclude from the results? It is true that Mitt Romney “won” Iowa; however, if you look at the data, you realize that his victory was not that remarkable. For one thing, he essentially maintained his 2008 electoral position: he received almost the exact number of votes that he got in 2008, and he received the same 25% of the vote that he got in 2008. Additionally, Romney in 2008 had to compete against John McCain and Rudy Giuliani for the more moderate/liberal Republican voter demographic: in that election, 41% of Iowans voted for one of those three candidates. This time, Romney had that vote all to himself, so in a sense, his electoral position has slipped since 2008. You could also make the argument that conservative voters are more energized this time around.
Does this mean that Romney is in trouble in the upcoming caucuses/primaries? Actually, no. The primary calendar is actually his friend in January and February if you look at the percentage of the vote that went to the more moderate Republican candidates in 2008 – a vote that theoretically would be Romney’s for the taking:
New Hampshire: Romney 32%, Romney + McCain + Giuliani: 78%
South Carolina: Romney 15%, Romney + McCain + Giuliani: 50%
Florida: Romney 31%, Romney + McCain + Giuliani: 82%
There is another intangible that in the short term benefits Romney: a divided conservative opposition. Since he is the only candidate who can appeal to moderate and liberal Republicans, divided conservative opposition enables him to “win” with a plurality of the vote, because in the eyes of voters and the media, a win is a win is a win, and if Romney can keep “winning”, it adds fuel to the “Romney is the inevitable nominee” conventional wisdom.
This will obviously change at some point: Michele Bachmann has already withdrawn, and between Santorum, Perry, and Gingrich, only one or two in that bunch can realistically stay in the race by the time “Super Tuesday” rolls around on March 6.
UPDATED 1/5 PM The primary calendar is also Romney’s friend in February and early March, as the states holding primaries/caucuses that month were favorable to Romney in 2008 (he received 60% in Colorado and ran first; 52% in Maine and ran first; 51% in Nevada and ran first; 41% in Minnesota while running first; 39% in Minnesota while running first; 39% in Washington state while running first; and 34% in Arizona while running second against native son John McCain, who recently endorsed Romney). Since these contests will be the only game in town before March 6, the results will be the context under which the contestants still in the race thrive or are forced out.
What about Super Tuesday? On that date (March 6), there are 12 contests, and in that bunch are Massachusetts, Ohio, and Texas.
While we have discussed at some length the primary calendar and Romney’s strengths/weaknesses, there is yet another subplot here: the extent to which Rick Santorum can withstand the inevitable scrutiny of his record, as prior GOP “frontrunners” have plummeted as quickly as they have soared in the polls as a result of this scrutiny.
While the Republican Presidential contest is occurring, the stage for the 2012 Congressional elections is starting to take shape as well. Congressional filing has concluded in Illinois and Ohio, and next week, filing will conclude in Alabama, Maryland, and Mississippi. In Illinois and Ohio, we know of two Congressmen (one Democrat and a Republican) who are retiring, and based on the candidates who filed, Republicans are guaranteed 5 seats, while Democrats are guaranteed 3 seats in the partisan composition of the House.
UPDATED 1/11 AM Even though congressional/statewide primary contests do not commence until March 6 in Ohio and Texas, there is a Congressional special election that will be held on January 31 in Oregon. Democrats have held this seat since 1974, and Barack Obama received 61% of the vote here in 2008. But while this is a Democratic leaning district, it does contain the affluent suburbs of Portland, so it will be interesting to see the extent to which economic issues can play a part in the outcome. And, of course, this will be yet another race where we will be watching the “Obama plunge” (explained here)