After a photo finish in the first real voting of the 2012 Republican nomination process, the surviving candidates had very different rides awaiting them. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, winner on Jan. 3 by the unlikely margin of eight votes--remember that number, for it speaks volumes about Romney's situation--climbed onto the front-runner express with a tank full of money and a club car packed with very important friends.
However, with 3 out of 4 participating Iowans voting for someone else, Romney may be in for a rough road ahead. Next up is New Hampshire, Romney's home away from home. He has a big lead in this state that loves to take leaders down a peg. After that, South Carolina, the conservative firewall--and Romney has never been a conservative favorite. You can read an eight-vote victory in Iowa as a sign of Romney's strength (he dashed in late in the game and won on the cheap) or as a sign of weakness (shouldn't a guy who has been running for more than five years be able to crack 25%?).
There's a lot of history to suggest that he's inevitable now, but there are also some good reasons to believe history could be rewritten this year. The wild ride of 2011--when one Republican candidate after another surged to the front only to lose a wheel or three--is not yet over. Romney's foes have a little time left to stop his relentlessly chugging locomotive.
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum was the Cinderella story, transformed from a rounding error in the polls to a virtual tie for first place almost overnight. Iowa always crowns a Cinderella somehow, but the poor thing never seems to win that second slipper. Ask President Mike Huckabee about that. Santorum's ticket is for a pumpkin in need of some bippity-boppity magic: he's short on money, staff and supporters in the three states--New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida--that will make or break him in the remaining days of January.
Then there's Ron Paul, the third-place Iowa finisher who captured better than 1 in 5 caucus votes. The libertarian purist rode out of town as he rode in, on his own private track. No one can predict the course of an American politician whose idea of a victory speech includes the triumphant cry "We're all Austrians now!" For his fellow devotees of the patron saint of unregulated markets, Ludwig von Mises, that's celestial music. But as Adlai Stevenson might have said, Yes, but he needs a majority.
As for the other also-rans, they were all poll toppers at one point or another along the strange GOP path. Newt Gingrich, at 13%, promised to soldier on to New Hampshire and South Carolina, nursing a nasty grudge against Romney over a barrage of critical ads. Texas Governor Rick Perry, on the other hand, sounded relieved to be heading home to Austin after winning just 1 vote in 10 (even as he promised to hang in there a bit longer). And last, Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann, winner of the 2011 GOP Ames straw poll, quit the race the morning after the vote. You might think this would teach America's political pundits something important about the Ames straw poll. But you already know: those people never learn.
Primogeniture, American Style