In general, I’ve been pretty quiet about the GOP primary race so far (except on my Twitter feed) and have actually tried to avoid reading news about it at points, because it has been pretty depressing. Of course, those self-imposed outages have all been short-lived because I am a politics junkie. It’s sad really.
However, tonight is the long-awaited Iowa caucuses. In fact, Iowans began their process a little less than 20 minutes ago as I write this sentence. Before the primary season proper kicks off with the release of precinct returns, I thought I’d offer some thoughts on the race so far and the potential results tonight.
Let’s start with the GOP field overall. Holy Jesus in Heaven afar, Mitt Romney has been a lucky man throughout this process. It’s Romney and 7 fatally-flawed candidates who were also-rans the day they announced, as far as serious election watchers were concerned. Sure, Perry had a chance early on, but his heart was never really in it. Gingrich was in the race to sell books until he actually had a shot at being the nominee for 8 seconds. Huntsman, one of the most objectively conservative and accomplished candidates in the race, slammed the far-right in his campaign’s opening days and it was all downhill from there. Oh, you have 3 hot daughters? How nice for you.
Don’t even get me started on Bachmann, Paul, Santorum and the biggest performance-art candidate of them all, Herman Cain.
I had legitimate concern about the possibility of a few serious candidates entering the race over the spring/summer. I winced at the thought of Mitch Daniels and/or Haley Barbour entering the race (though they probably wouldn’t have run against each other, as they’re close friends.) That’s because, in my opinion, they would be strong in a general election. I considered Chris Christie a viable and threatening candidate even though he didn’t seem very interested by the proposition of running. Even Sarah Palin seemed poised to parachute in and reconfigure the race, though I doubt she would have fared better tonight than, say, Gingrich or Perry will.
So, Romney has been a lucky duck. And yet, his level of support is pretty unimpressive. If he wins tonight, he may end up garnering the lowest percentage of any Iowa winner in history at ~24%, which is not unlikely. I think, based on what I’ve read over the past few days, that a useful indicator of whether Romney really will have “won” the caucuses tonight is if he surpasses his support from 4 years ago, when he was running against a much stronger field.
Just as an aside, I cannot f’ing believe Rick Santorum might win the Iowa caucuses. This is a pretty big commentary on how terrible and volatile the race has been in Iowa. But it also shows how desperate iowa Republicans are to find someone who isn’t Romney. As anyone who is from PA knows, Santorum is so out of touch with the mainstream that it’s not even funny. How they think he would survive a general election against an incumbent, even a middlingly-popular one, is beyond me. He is just the guy who’s insurgent at the right time. If he wins tonight, which the current returns are showing might happen, that will be absolutely apparent as the primary season continues and he’s subjected to greater scrutiny.
The most striking thing to me though is how much harder a time Romney would have if the field was smaller and the anti-Romney people were less fractured. As it stands, Romney may win the nomination without ever breaking 50% in a single seriously-contested primary. journalists are hoping for a long nomination fight but I absolutely see the race being essentially over by the morning after Super Tuesday. Let’s also not forget that a short nomination fight would mean very light scrutiny and testing for Romney before the general.
My feeling is that Romney is the eventual nominee but will have a somewhat difficult time getting widespread full-throated GOP support before the convention and the VP pick.
Anyway, very interested to see what’s next.