The votes are still being counted and with about 96% of the votes counted it will be a photo-finish between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum with Ron Paul just a bit behind in third place. The race between Romney and Santorum It is so close that at least one network is predicting that it may not be able to call the race until the last vote is counted.
Reporters, pundits and pollsters are trying to sort out what this means but the reality is that three quarters of Republicans in Iowa don’t want Mitt Romney as their nominee. Romney has the money, organizations and old line GOP support to run the table if he wasn’t viewed as the member of a religious cult by half the GOP and as a out of touch rich Massachusetts flip-flopper without John Kerry’s medals.
The fact is that if you add the non-Ron Paul “Conservative Christians” Santorum, Gingrich, Perry and Bachmann together they come in at at about 53% of the total vote. This is important because Romney has to win in the South and Midwest where the conservative Evangelical and Catholic vote has to be won to win. That demographic favors whoever is the Un-Mormon Anti-Mitt. Many of Romney’s “supporters” close to 40% have reservations about him.
What I really believe will happen is that the vote will be so close that Romney’s campaign will lose momentum no-matter how well he does in New Hampshire where as of today polls give him a commanding lead. The real test will be South Carolina where if Romney sputters despite the support of Governor Nikki Haley the race will go on for a long time. I think that Romney probably will still win the nomination but he will be damaged goods. Some Tea Party leaders say that they would never support Romney, influential Evangelical pastors saying that Romney is “not a Christian” while others call support for Romney an endorsement of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or the Mormons.
The scorched earth tactics of Romney’s Super PAC will not endear him to the supporters of some of his opponents. Newt Gingrich has called Romney a “liar” and as the campaign progresses the Romney campaign tactics will alienate more of the people that he needs to win in November. Romey’s PAC will turn its guns on Santorum and Gingrich will blast Romney in the next debate. It will get nasty.
The effect of Ron Paul and the Libertarian wing of the GOP cannot be underestimated, most Paul’s supporters would not support Romney. Paul is well funded and will not go away and because many of the delegates won in the primaries are now awarded on a proportional basis if he hangs around he can collect enough of them to be the fly in Romney’s ointment at the GOP Convention.
I expect that Michelle Bachmann is not planning to end her campaign simply just yet but her closing speech was as anti-Mitt as it was anti-Obama. However her campaign is toast, even Sarah Palin has counted her out. Rick Perry is reassessing his campaign and going back to Texas. But Newt Gingrich was not completely destroyed by Romney and will live to fight another day and will have an impact in the South where he will along with Santorum and Paul will bloody Romney significantly. Gingrich’s closing speech tonight showed that he is going to go after Romney and pretty much leave Santorum alone. Expect Bachmann and Perry to back Santorum if Gingrich falters.
Look to an unexpectedly long and interesting campaign for the GOP nomination. That is my take on Iowa.