The Republican presidential candidates were on a fairly even playing field this year, since most candidates had at least a couple of prominent negatives. This made it more difficult for Republican primary voters to decide upon a candidate. Romney was not as conservative in his earlier years as Massachusetts governor, and his MassCare healthcare system frequently is confused with ObamaCare. There are a few issues Gingrich doesn’t seem so conservative on, such as working for Freddie Mac and launching a television ad with Nancy Pelosi about global warming. Rick Perry made a few too many gaffes during the presidential debates and continued to defend his soft position on illegal immigration. Rick Santorum has not quite mastered the presidential persona yet, which combined with voting for Medicare Part D, supporting Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey for Senate and an inability to raise adequate funding has hurt him. Michelle Bachmann has a great record on the issues, but also lacks an ability to fundraise and was unable to sustain a national ground team. Ron Paul takes a liberal non-interventionist position on foreign policy which is a huge strike against him in this era of terrorism. Jon Huntsman is virtually unknown, considered too moderate, and didn’t bother to campaign in Iowa.
Due to Romney’s prior experience running for president, he had the best ground team in place early on, providing him with a substantial base of support. However, it also made him appear to be the establishment “John McCain” moderate Republican to beat. In one of the oddest developments ever to come out of a presidential primary, the conservative base switched their support between seven other candidates in succession choosing Pawlenty, Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich, even Paul to some extent, then Santorum. Santorum’s late surge coincided with the Iowa caucuses, partially a result of his efforts exclusively focusing on that primary. Santorum attended more than 350 campaign events in Iowa over 105 days, whereas Romney attended only 38 events during 19 days.
Of the Republican presidential candidates, Ron Paul has the most fervent supporters and their efforts paid off, launching him into the top three vote-getters despite his unpopular views on foreign policy. However the most important revelation from the caucuses was that Paul only came in third place. The Democrats launched a “Blue Republican” effort in order to manipulate the Republican primary into electing Ron Paul. In Iowa, voters can show up the day of the caucuses, register as Republicans, and vote. The fact the Democrats did not pull this off for Paul in Iowa is evidence they are not as active and organized as they were the year Obama was elected. This bodes well for the GOP later this year in the general election.
So far Romney has made few mistakes and has ran the race like a tortoise versus the many hares. Unlike the other candidates, he has both the field team in place and the funding. He looks presidential and his voice sounds like Ronald Reagan. He is leading in the New Hampshire polls, where the primary is just six days away. On January 21, the third primary will be held in South Carolina. No Republican candidate has won South Carolina who has not won either Iowa or New Hampshire. Santorum may get a boost in funding due to his strong showing, but he also needs a strong field team, which he is lacking due to putting all of his efforts into Iowa.
To the seasoned political veteran, it would seem that Romney has the GOP nomination wrapped up. However, one wild card could be Newt Gingrich. Ironically, Gingrich’s brilliant strategic mind, which could pull him back up in the polls, is what has been his downfall so far. Buried with his think tanks, writing and book tour, he has not had the time to devote to the campaign that Romney has. It may not be too late. Gingrich will be running a full page ad in the New Hampshire Union Leader attacking Romney as too moderate. In addition to his intelligence, Gingrich is the only other candidate in the race with an immense amount of charisma. He has a significant lead in the polls in South Carolina. In past elections, the candidate who wins South Carolina has gone on to win the Republican nomination.
The Iowa caucus merely cemented in place what was already happening. There were few surprises this year; the polls were accurate. Romney captured the same counties he did in the 2008 presidential election, and Santorum took most of the counties Mike Huckabee won last time. The candidates who were behind in the polls are now seriously considering dropping out; Michelle Bachmann was the first to leave. If the lesser-performing candidates drop out and endorse someone like Gingrich, it could drastically change what is shaping up to be a very predictable primary.