But I did say this on November 11th, when Rick Santorum was at 3% in Iowa, dead last among the six candidates competing there (and would remain last for another six weeks):
Or maybe….just maybe…December will be Rick Santorum’s turn in the spotlight! Sure, he’s been to all 99 counties in Iowa and is still under 5% in the polls there. They’ve seen him, examined him very closely and they, um, don’t like him. But guess what….he’s a true, blue social conservative. It’s in his bones. And he’s got some depth to him since he’s been arguing the case for twenty years. He’s not cramming for the debates. He’s a policy wonk. So do I dare call a boomlet coming for Santorum? The upcoming debates give him another shot. By the time of the Iowa caucus, he might even be the Republican frontrunner (from the right, that is).
And that’s how it played out. Santorum peaked at the right time, finishing just 8 votes shy of Mitt Romney in Iowa, both at 25%. A Romney win in Iowa should have been the lead story today. But it was not. The lead story was Santorum, and his unlikely climb to a millimeter-short “win.”
Paul finished a comfortable third at 21%. And then the unhappiness began, with Gingrich in fourth (13%), Perry in fifth (10%) and Bachmann at 5%.
Here are the key points from Iowa and then a look ahead….
- Santorum had a big near-win, of course, and also made a fantastic speech afterward, far better than Romney’s, which immediately followed. It very heartfelt, emotional, yet strong. He really did well (much as I despise his message).
- It was still a good night for Romney. He did win, and even better for him, Santorum, who has little money or organization, won the mantle of the far right, as two of the more formidable opponents Gingrich (for his name recognition and debating prowess) and Perry (for his money and organization) did poorly.
- Paul rode the 17-29 demographic to a strong 3rd place finish. He received 48% of the vote from these young voters, and I bet most of them are really responding to the “anti-war, legalize pot” messages they hear from him, oblivious to the rest.
- Gingrich’s 4th place finish was the culmination of a two-week battering, and his speech was basically an endorsement of Santorum and a promise to attack Romney aggressively (even viciously?) on Santorum’s behalf. That’s not what he actually said – he’s still in the race – but that was the not-so-thinly-veiled message. He’s one angry dude right now, mad at the big Super-PAC attack ads unleashed against him by Romney’s friends. They hurt him badly, likely denying him his ambition. This is a huge lift for Santorum, who therefore does not have to “go negative” (much) himself. (Although he does have to beat Newt in SC, not a given with the last poll -- albeit mid-December -- showing Newt well ahead.)
- Bachmann has dropped out but Perry decided, after a peculiar side trip today to Texas (canceling a full slate of events in SC), that he would press on to SC. Santorum will likely pick up Bachmann’s supporters in SC, a healthy 8 points in the last poll.
So the next stop is…..
Romney has to win big in NH for it to be a “win” for him – by double digits (or maybe even doubling the second place finisher). Anything less will be viewed as a weak win, since his latest polling (Jan 1-3) has him 43-14 over Paul. He also has to exceed 30% and preferably much higher, to begin to prove that 25% is not his “moderate ceiling.”
Huntsman, who has put all his chips in NH, has to come in a strong second at least, to remain in the race. Even a distant second, if it is to Romney, doesn’t do much for him.
Santorum has to make a move to get into double digits to claim the benefit of momentum. He’s at 5% in NH as of New Year’s Day. I think he needs to get to 15%. Perry and Bachmann are at 2% each in New Hampshire (and are skipping NH this week save the debates) and Gingrich 9%, so if he manages to consolidate the far right and get all of that – not easy! -- he gets there. But single digits will not propel him into SC with much.
Who knows what Ron Paul is all about? But he will be in it for the long haul -- he stayed in the race in 2008 until June. And this time around he has more support (he came in 5th in Iowa in 2008 with 10% of the vote) and with the new proportional allocation of delegates he will be a force.
So, I predict the following (without the benefit of post-Iowa polls!):
Also…Saturday night’s debate could be a big one, with Santorum finally making it into one of the coveted middle podiums!
This is the traditional “face-off” state, and it’s been that way since 1980….someone wins Iowa, someone else wins New Hampshire, and they face-off in South Carolina, with the winner ultimately taking the nomination. McCain beat Huckabee in 2008; Bush beat McCain in 2000; Dole over Buchanan in ’96; GHW Bush over Dole in ’88; and Reagan over GHW Bush in ’80.
This SC face-off will be a bit unusual, in that Romney will (likely) have won both Iowa and NH. But given the 8-vote margin and the Late Mo for Santorum, essentially it is another face-off. Yet unlike the others, it may not resolve anything. If Santorum wins, with Paul second, we could be in not only be in for a long haul through the primary season, but given proportional allocation, we may indeed have no pre-convention winner.
See you next week! Comments and predictions welcome!