I never in my life would have thought I’d be describing the Iowa caucuses as exciting. Hell, I can’t even say the word “caucus” without having to suppress immature fits of giggles. It’s just such a funny word. I have never really taken the Iowa caucuses as seriously as Iowans themselves do. After all it’s not a real vote and it polls a small cross section of citizens. I have always felt content to simply tune into the news the next day and find out the winners and losers. Tuesday was different.
With wall-to-wall press coverage as if it were a real Presidential contest it was hard not to be sucked into the buzz. Perhaps it was the idea that the field would be thinning a bit with the Iowa results, or the curiosity as to whether or not Ron Paul crowd could propel him to victory there that created such an atmosphere. Maybe it was all the weirdness surrounding Newt’s surge and fall; whatever it was, Iowa was where all eyes were focused on Tuesday night.
What was widely expected was that Romney would win the caucuses, and Ron Paul might surprise with a win or close finish. What was certainly not expected was the Rick Santorum -the generic Republican who has seemingly been blending into the background of every GOP debate thus far – would nearly win the caucuses (heehee) and suddenly become a national sensation.
In a race that counted tens of thousands of votes, the winner came down to a difference of merely 8 votes. Suddenly Rick Santorum went from being a punchline to a real challenger. Although Mitt Romney eventually came out on top, there is not doubt the real winner was Rick Santorum, who now has a spot in the national limelight for the time being, at least.
But what does all this mean for the months ahead in this primary battle? Santorum has been branded the “social conservative candidate” and with Bachmann’s exit and Perry’s struggle in the polls, many are wondering if this Iowa “win” will siphon off some of those Bachmann/Perry voters. I hate to make predictions. Goodness knows this primary race has already held many more surprises than any of us anticipated. However it can’t be ignored that Santorum’s Iowa surprise will have consequences for the rest of the race. Will Santorum suddenly become a Ronald Reagan-type candidate that Republicans across America will suddenly begin to rally around? I doubt that. Santorum isn’t so much the issue here, but what he represents is the message that conservatives aren’t ready to hand over the nomination to Mitt Romney just yet. This presidential season is all about the “Not Obama” campaign, and in our own party we are dealing with a “Not Romney” faction that is truly digging their feet in and refusing to concede to the media’s pick for us.
Santorum bet big on Iowa. He has visited all 99 counties over the last year, repeatedly. He bet his campaign on the idea that if people could get to know him personally, they would vote for him. His bet paid off, but can it translate to votes outside of Iowa? After all, he hasn’t the time or ability to visit every county in America in the next 10 months. Santorum has received a huge media bump from this win, and that will most certainly translate into dollars, although to what extent remains to be seen. Also, millions of Americans who had no idea who Rick Santorum was before Tuesday night are now able to associate the face with the name and will be more likely to follow his progress as the primaries move along. That is publicity that you just can’t buy. All that bodes well for Santorum to continue his momentum moving into the other primary states. What won’t be to his advantage is the shelacking he is about to receive from the mainstream media. Even those on our side have not always been kind to the former PA senator. At best he has been described by his detractors as a mediocre senator who eventually lost by 18 points to a very liberal Democrat. He has also supported earmarks and other questionable spending plans and he will most certainly be held to account for those things. Also, Santorum will most definitely be painted with the same homophobic, racist, sexist brush the media uses to portray all of us conservatives. He may be riding high today after his almost-victory, but Santorum shouldn’t get too happy. We’ll be hearing the Hitler metaphors inside of a week, bet on that. How he handles the criticism will be very telling as to whether or not he can turn the Iowa caucuses (snicker) into a victory on a national level.
For Romney, Santorum’s surge means he still has a lot of work to do to win over the Republican base. Far from being the “lock” he was once predicted to be, Romney can’t seem to poll over 30% and each challenge to his front-runner status has only served to highlight the fact that he is far from wrapping up this nomination, despite the best efforts of the media.
If anything, this Santorum victory serves to remind Republicans that this race is nowhere near over; and while the primary process may be bloody and tiresome at times it is absolutely vital in selecting a credible candidate. When the process is tampered and toyed with by 3rd party haters and establishment tricks we end up with a John McCain…but when the process is allowed to unfold spontaneously we end up with what we have now – an unpredictable roller coaster. I wouldn’t have it any other way.