Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney managed to win the Iowa caucuses by eight votes late Tuesday evening, when the final tally came in. Mr. Romney, who remains elusive to reporters following him on the campaign trail, was locked in a two man battle with former Senator Rick Santorum who was ahead of Romney at times by as little as 1 vote.
Senator Santorum is going straight to New Hampshire and despite those who believe he should skip the New England state, cede the win to Romney, and go straight to South Carolina, Mr. Santorum told me on Tuesday night he is going to New Hampshire, “because it’s the next one. I’m taking it one at a time.”
Governor Romney’s vast war chest afforded him the ability to campaign in Iowa from afar more often, whereas Senator Santorum’s shoestring campaign budget gave the Pennsylvania Republican no other choice but to move his family to the Hawkeye state last year and campaign around all 99 counties and earn the trust of Iowa Caucus voters.
Although Romney walked away with the winner’s trophy in Iowa, Santorum’s consolation prize can be seen all over the national headlines, as it appears that political observers cannot help but wonder why they missed the last minute Santorum surge and counted on Congressman Ron Paul, Texas Republican, pulling in more votes within his upper tier third position finish than he did.
A number of issues to consider regarding the Iowa caucus results:
Most media did not bother to look back at the Iowa Straw Poll results from August more carefully (Water Cooler post 8/13/11):
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Minnesota Republican, ultimately won the Iowa straw poll. Below are the final results of the 16,892 votes that were cast. Governor Perry’s name was not on the ballot but he received 4% of the vote as a write in.
1)Bachmann: 4823 2)Paul: 4671 3)Pawlenty: 2293 4)Santorum: 1657 5)Cain: 1456 6)Perry: 718 (write in) 7)Romney: 567 8)Gingrich: 385 9)Huntsman: 69 10)McCotter: 35
Santorum, for all of his frugality up to that point in Iowa as well as traditional shoe leather campaigning around all 99 counties last year, came in 4th place. However, Santorum’s positioning was relatively ignored. Why? Other stories overshadowed Mr. Santorum’s finish at the straw poll. These were:
Pawlenty dropping out of the race, Perry entering the race, Bachmann winning the straw poll, Romney finishing horribly in 7th (though he had not spent much time in IA if at all at that point), and Paul finishing a strong second in the straw poll.
In fact, even though Herman Cain came in 5th at the straw poll (200 votes less than Santorum), the media found his story more interesting to cover, and his campaign took off from there. Santorum’s strong finish was brushed aside. Santorum recognized this and told me and other outlets when Perry entered the race: (Water Cooler post 8/13/11):
“He’s the Governor of Texas. You know, the Governor of Texas has unlimited resources down there in Texas and you guys are going to write a lot about it,” said Mr. Santorum. “I’m the little engine that could candidate and Rick Perry is just another shiny engine. ‘Rick Perry is a great guy’ and everybody is oohing and ahhing and everybody is ….’This is a wonderful candidate.’ We’re just chugging along.”
Santorum chugged along beneath the radar as other candidates’ campaigns shot up to take on Governor Romney and collapsed just as quickly. In the meantime, Mr. Santorum was positioned at the wing tips of the debate stages where lower polling candidates are always placed and struggled to get his points in but was never attacked by the upper tier candidates standing at center stage. While this may have been frustrating for Santorum who enjoys debating others, it shielded him from scrutiny too soon in the primary.
After Herman Cain suspended his campaign, Santorum told me during a stop in Washington (Water Cooler Post 12/7/11) that he believed that Cain supporters were coming over to support him:
“We’re not spinning this. We’re actually getting folks coming to our town hall meetings who were Cain supporters. We have some announcement coming up here in the next few days to folks who had endorsed Cain that are moving in our direction, so we feel very good. We’re going to pick up a lot of those Cain supporters,” Mr. Santorum said. “There’s a lot of time. There’s four weeks between now and election day (in Iowa).”
Still, many did not believe former Cain supporters would move toward Santorum, but instead, support former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Santorum chugged along once again.
I followed Senator Santorum to Iowa one week later and met up with him on few campaign stops around the state. One campaign stop was a Christmas tree farm. Less than a handful of media appeared to cover Mr. Santorum standing in front of evergreens that were being tied up for customers to take home.
Later on, in Mt. Vernon at Cornell College, Santorum went into relatively hostile territory when he spoke to small room of students (Water Cooler Post 12/14/11) who peppered him with questions about same-sex marriage, oil drilling, and entitlements. This time, less than a handful of media appeared to cover the event.
Santorum bided his time, remained respectful but firm about his own beliefs when criticizing his fellow candidates. By not viciously attacking Mr. Gingrich, Rep. Michele Bachmann, or Gov. Perry (and he has had ample opportunity to do so) Santorum has set himself up to build a conservative support should these candidates begin to drop out. Apparently, Santorum’s might is worth much more than eight points.