DES MOINES, Iowa—At 11:00 PM Tuesday, there were still diehards waiting to see whether Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum came in first in the Iowa caucuses. Others were trying to determine what will happen in next in a Republican presidential nomination battle whose unpredictablility has included statements of non-candidacy by several considered attactive hopefuls and gaffes and stumbles by some who did become candidates.
Last night, however, was the most unpredictable development of all. With 97 percent of the votes counted in the closest-ever Iowa caucuses, a microscopic 37 votes separated Romney and Santorum, whose last campaign was a losing re-election bid as U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania in 2006. With veteran social issues leader Bob Vander Plaats as his campaign quarterback, Santorum rallied pro-life activists and other cultural conservatives and made a major surge in polls in the final week of the campaign.
Not too far behind them was Ron Paul with 21 percent, and Newt Gingrich 13.4 percent. Rounding out the field was Texas Gov. Rick Perry with 10 percent and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann 5 percent. Perry told reporters that he was returning to Texas to reassess his future, while Bachmann—almost incredibly—signaled she would continue the campaign. Sources in Minnesota have predicted it is only a matter of time before Bachmann becomes the next “casualty” of the presidential contest and makes a decision to either seek re-election to Congress or seek an opportunity in the private sector.
The results were clearly embarassing to Romney. In struggling for first place with someone whose last campaign was a landslide defeat for re-election as U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania six years ago, Romney got about the same votes as he did in Iowa in ‘08 (when he came in second with 25 percent of the vote to upset winner Mike Huckabee’s 34 percent). As if prepared for something less than an outright win, top Iowa Romney campaign consultant David Kochel told HUMAN EVENTS on Monday that his man in ’08 spent an estimated $10 million and 50-60 days campaigning in the Hawkeye State. But this time, Kochel told us, Romney made only eight appearances and spent “about $200,000” in the state. (This figure, of course, did not include the estimated $10 million spent by a “SuperPAC” on Romney’s behalf, in large part on media broadsides focused on opponents such as Gingrich; the former House Speaker’s Iowa chairman, former Rep. Greg Ganske, estimated that there were “70 different attack spots aimed at Newt.”
Whatever the outcome in Iowa, Romney still goes into the New Hampshire primary January 10 a favorite for the victory that eluded him four years ago at the hands of John McCain. Santorum, while rallying cultural conservatives throughout the Hawkeye State, has raised immediate questions over whether his “Mom and Pop” campaign can show any strength in New Hampshire or South Carolina.
“I agree with Sen. Santorum on virtually every issue, but I was very worried he’s another Mike Huckabee—that he can win inIowa but not have any organization to go beyond that,” Clive (Iowa) City Councilman Ted Weaver told us, adding that is what led him to vote for Romney in the caucus. (Pete Jeffries, onetime press secretary to former House Speaker Dennis Hastert and now a Des Moinesresident, pointed out to HUMAN EVENTS that “the people working for and speaking for Santorum at his caucus were “the same people behind Huckabee in ’08.”)
Paul’s showing fulfilled the prediction of his Iowa campaign chairman David Fisher that “placing one, two, or three here” would be “a tremendous accomplishment.” Paul, Fisher told HUMAN EVENTS, was now in a position to “go into New Hampshire, South Carolina, and the rest of the [nomination] campaign.
As for Gingrich, Iowa campaign leader Ganske said that “Newt was hurt by the fact there had not been [televised] debates for two weeks before Iowa, and debates were always his strong suit.” Now, the former congressman noted, there would be two debates before theNew Hampshire balloting next week. In addition, Ganske predicted Gingrich would wage a major fight against Romney in South Carolina. On the same day as the Iowa caucuses, Gingrich named two highly-regarded conservatives as his South Carolina campaign co-chairmen: former Rep. John Napier and former U.S. Appeals Court Judge Billy Wilkens.
About the safest prediction one can make of the Republican presidential nod is that, as it has been for the past few months, it is likely to remain unpredictable.