A Bad Day For Mitt Romney
In my first post on this blog, I asked the question ‘Who Really Won Iowa?’. Well we now have an official answer: nobody. Following a recount, Mitt Romney’s 8-vote lead now appears to be a 34-vote lead for Rick Santorum. However, due to a number of ‘missing votes’, the decision has been made not to declare a winner.
Though this sounds bizarre at first, it does make sense. Firstly, Iowa allocates delegates on a proportional system. Whether Romney or Santorum is ahead by a nose doesn’t matter, as the proportion is so close that they would each in theory end up with the same number of delegates. I say ‘in theory’ because Iowa’s delegates are not bound to support any specific candidate at the Republican National Convention. This makes the matter of who ‘won’ Iowa even less relevant. Perhaps more important is that quibbling over the result of this nonbinding caucus would look petty, and potentially harm their chances in the upcoming, binding primaries.
The interesting thing about Romney’s win being revoked is the question of how, if at all, it would have affected the New Hampshire result. In a post earlier this week reflecting on Jon Huntsman’s withdrawal from the race, I posited the question as to what would have happened had Romney not won Iowa. His status as the presumptive nominee weakened, Romney would have had a harder time in New Hampshire and possibly be in a much weaker position than he finds himself in now.
Finding out he had lost Iowa wasn’t the worst piece of news Romney got today though; that will have been Rick Perry’s decision to finally pull out of the race. It was always going to happen sooner or later – there are only so many gaffes and embarrassingly low vote counts a candidate can survive – but Romney would have been praying Perry would hold out until after South Carolina votes on Saturday. He didn’t though, and now Romney faces a Newt Gingrich who is hot off the back of a good debate performance and with Perry’s endorsement as well.
Gaining the endorsement of Rick Perry may not seem like the sort of thing that wins elections, but in this case it is more important than it appears. Perry may have only been polling at 5% in South Carolina when he pulled out, but his choice of Gingrich over Santorum holds great significance for what it represents – a real step towards the naming of anti-Romney candidate for the conservative right to rally around. I think it is fair to say that a great number of supporters of either Gingrich or Santorum would gladly switch their allegiance to the other, were a consensus to begin to form around either of them. Rick Perry’s decision today was a genuine step towards this consensus.
So what now after today’s double disappointment for Romney? Well the immediate result was a surge in the polls for Gingrich, who now sits in first place ahead of tonight’s debate. Newt is likely to have a difficult time in the debate, however, after an interview with his second wife aired earlier today. Her revelations about his desire for an ‘open marriage’ will hardly sit well with Republican voters. If Gingrich gets through the debate relatively unscathed and wins or takes a strong second place on Saturday, the calls for Santorum to drop out and endorse him would become too strong to resist. Romney, who mere days ago appeared to be coasting to the nomination, would then face the Republican right (embodied by Newt Gingrich) and Ron Paul (whose poll numbers are looking consistently impressive), and we may finally have a real competition on our hands.