After last night's unprecedented near-tie in the Iowa Republican caucuses, it's easy to think that the GOP nomination contest is somehow up in the air. After all, the two top candidates in last night's election—former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum—are very different brands of Republicans. Mitt Romney is a well-heeled, patrician creature of the establishment, who—after almost a decade of planning—is the "next man in line" for the nomination. Rick Santorum, by contrast, is an unpopular former lawmaker who lost his last election in a colossal landslide and was on his way to renewed obscurity until his surge in Iowa.
DES MOINES, IOWA—The event was already running behind schedule when Chuck Laudner made his way to the front corner of the Pizza Ranch restaurant in Boone, Iowa. He struggled to kill time as Rick Santorum struggled to reach the podium. Over the past weeks, Laudner, a former executive director of the Iowa Republican Party, had been introducing the onetime Pennsylvania senator across the state. At first it was at small gatherings little noticed by the media. But that transformed overnight. On Monday, a crowd filled every inch of floor space, forcing Santorum to slowly trudge to the front, handshake by handshake.
Now that the actual primary campaign (with voting, I mean) has begun, it might be worth taking note of a real benefit this crazy campaign has had for the electorate. With no fewer than six national front-runners at various times (Romney, Trump, Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich), we've had a chance to get a close look at more candidates than ever. Ordinarily, the press will find only one or two candidates worthy of a good sifting through their past. But this time, nearly all the candidates have been subject to close examination, and the harsh national spotlight reveals all flaws. If you're wondering what skeletons John Huntsman has in his closet, it's because he's the only candidate who hasn't been ahead (or nearly so).
Four years ago in Iowa, Barack Obama had a terrific night in the Democratic caucuses. Four years later, he had another one in the Republican caucuses.
Mitt Romney had hoped to swoop into Iowa, fatally kneecap Newt Gingrich, initiate a clean sweep of the early Republican contests—and then start repositioning himself back toward the middle for a general-election battle with the president.
To quote Rick Perry, who suspended his campaign after a fifth-place finish yesterday: “Oops.”
Peterborough, New Hampshire—As the Republican Party continues its mad dash rightward, it’s good, if at times difficult, to remember that not every Republican has been swept along. Such Republicans haven’t been much in evidence in Iowa of late, but they were out in force in New Hampshire last night at a town hall for Jon Huntsman, whose platform makes clear he knows the radical right’s words but whose attitude is that of one who plainly refuses to learn the music.
Speaking one hour before the Iowa caucuses commenced, Huntsman directed barbs at both Republicans and Democrats. What was notable was that the crowd—several hundred well-heeled and –coiffed GOPniks and independents—responded chiefly—actually, only—to the barbs directed at their own side.
Rick Perry’s energy has been known to flag on the campaign trail, but he was plenty fired up this morning. Visiting with volunteers in west Des Moines, the Texas governor gave 'em their marching orders—quite literally—for caucus day: “This is Concord,” he declared. “This is Omaha Beach. This is going up the hill, realizing that the battle is worthy. This is about sacrifice. Every man and woman has sacrificed your time, your treasure, your reputation."
After an unusually warm December, winter has finally come to Iowa as the election season officially begins. The milder temperatures last month allowed candidates to hold their events outside—where they were overcrowded on sweltering 50 degree days—but now the temperature has dropped to the normal Midwestern chill. It is 12 degrees in Des Moines right now, and this morning, I needed to defrost my car for the first time in the three weeks that I have been here.
If you look at the forecasts, Europe and the U.S. are starting 2012 off on different economic trajectories. Europe is heading for a near-inescapable second recession after manufacturing output dropped in December for the fifth straight month. The United States, on the other hand, seemed to be on the upswing in December—the job and housing markets improved, the payroll tax cut was extended (finally), and consumer spending rose. “There is a sense of decoupling,” Maury Harris, chief economist at UBS Securities, toldBloomberg Businessweek.
Since when did Mitt Romney turn into a jovial, wise-cracking sort? Well, ever since it became apparent that his chief rivals in the Iowa caucuses would almost surely be Congressman Ron Paul and former Senator Rick Santorum, who probably stand about the same chance as Kim Kardashian or Dominique Strauss-Kahn of winning the Republican nomination. Meanwhile, the only two candidates Romney’s people have worried about, Texas Governor Rick Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, could be left in the shadows after tomorrow night, relegated to making their final stands in South Carolina on January 21. At least that’s what the latest polls from Iowa say.
COUNCIL BLUFFS, IOWA—Mitt Romney seems on the inevitable path toward locking up the GOP nomination, even if he doesn't win tomorrow in Iowa. He is nearly assured victory next week in New Hampshire and he has the organization to last him through the long haul, something the rising Rick Santorum cannot claim. But interviews with Iowans who have attended his events suggest that Romney is struggling to draw in new supporters—not just those who supported him last time he ran for president.
As we watch Republicans give a collective "Meh" to their contenders for president, I thought it might be a good time for a trip down memory lane. Four years ago, Barack Obama won the Iowa caucus and delivered what may be his best speech ever. Take a quick gander and remember those heady days:
Does it still give you shivers? I always felt that the most compelling thing about Obama's campaign rhetoric was how he brought the listener into his own epic story. Let me revisit what I wrote at the time:
Politico’s Roger Simon makes a very smart point about tomorrow’s caucus in Iowa:
If Mitt Romney wins the Iowa caucuses, the race for the Republican nomination is over. If Mitt Romney comes in second in Iowa, the race for the Republican nomination is over.
And if Mitt Romney comes in third in Iowa, the race for the Republican nomination is over.
If there is anything that you should keep in mind as we wait for Iowans to make their choice in the Republican nomination contest, it’s that Mitt Romney will be the nominee. The only question is how it happens, and that depends on tomorrow’s outcome in Iowa.
OSKALOOSA, IOWA—Seemingly out of nowhere, Rick Santorum became the trendy pick to win the Iowa caucuses over the weekend. A CNN poll put Santorum slowly rising to third last Wednesday, but that was already old news when the Des Moines Register released its much-vaunted Iowa Poll on Saturday night.