What does the Iowa Caucus mean?

The Iowa Caucus results from Tuesday were as follows: Mitt Romney won by 8 votes with 25%, Rick Santorum was a very, very close second with 25%, Ron Paul finished third with 21%, Newt Gingrich had 13%, Rick Perry ended up with 10%, Michele Bachmann had 6%, and Jon Huntsman had the rear with 1%.

There were several stories from the Iowa Caucuses. Of those, the “photo finish” is by far the most talked about, yet, it is also the least consequential. Any top three that exclude Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry would have been, and was, a resounding victory for Mitt Romney as he was able to in one fell swoop remove the last “teapartyish” candidates we had left. Romney was focusing primarily on New Hampshire, not Iowa. Mitt’s campaign had remembered what happened the last time he focused on Iowa; Mike Huckabee had a surprise victory in 2008. That really harmed Romney through the 2008 primary process. He kept getting silver medals but not the gold. This time around when it appeared Romney could end the nomination in Iowa, his campaign jumped at it. They parachuted in three weeks before the Caucus, did an ad war, got a ground game going, and hit there target number of 30,000 votes for Mitt at the Iowa Caucus, quite the feat and not something to downplay.

Rick Santorum finished in essence a tie with Romney in the Caucus, an impressive feat for a guy with little money. He took the blueprint of Mike Huckabee in 2008 and moved his family to Iowa, visited all 99 counties, most of them twice. Got a ground game and perform the most traditional retail politics campaign in Iowa. This strategy got him 25%. But this number is deceiving. The way the polls had been moving around, probably more than half of his support came from Bachmann, Perry, Newt, and former candidate Cain supporters. Santorum was rising in the polls and many people wanted to jump on the Not-Romney bandwagon. Santorum’s campaign continues, but now he will get the anal exam. I think when people size up Santorum and Romney, the voter will go with Mitt. Mitt can beat Obama, doesn’t sound whiny, can debate Obama, and doesn’t scream social issues in a jobs, economy election.

Ron Paul finished third with 21%. It is hard to see how anyone can sell this as a victory. I think he needed a one or two point behind only one candidate. He could have claimed momentum but instead finishing four points behind one candidate who parachuted in and one candidate who basically lived in Iowa. Ron Paul’s support is the most passionate and will do anything to win a caucus. This has to be seen as a defeat. And I predict that 21% is the ceiling. The Iowa Caucus was so skewed in Paul’s favor. Republicans, Independents, and Democrats could vote for him. And these are people who really care, not regular primary voters who just pick up a ballot, vote, and leave. I see Paul in the race to the end as a message candidate, but no chance of winning the GOP nomination.

Newt Gingrich finished fourth with 13%. He peaked too soon, and the ad war against him from Perry, Paul, and Romney has taken a toll. I think he was the best candidate to fight Romney and Obama, but the public cannot look past his personality and baggage. This was a very disappointing finish for him. He will finally decide to break the 11th Commandment and attack Mitt. We will see how his kamikaze mission works out.

Perry finished fifth with 10%. I see no real path for him the win the nomination. His only chance is to somehow come up with a win in South Carolina, not likely though. I believe if he stays in for South Carolina and Florida, that is a de facto endorsement for Romney by trimming the Not-Romney vote.

Michele Bachmann had only 6% of the vote. This was a poor showing and glad she decided to leave the race. On a side note, I think she genuinely ran to fill a void in the field. She then did well in the first debate, got the spotlight, and then eventually faded. I knew her campaign was done in late October, early November when Perry’s support fell and Herman Cain seemed to get most of that support. Bachmann was forgotten as a serious candidate. But I knew she had a Presidential book coming out in November she had to sell. There was no way she would exit the field until at least Iowa. But I think she did exit gracefully and hope she can win her Congressional seat back.

Jon Huntsman got 1%, which is a pretty impressive for a guy who basically dissed the state of Iowa. He needs to do well in New Hampshire or he is toast.

So what did Iowa tell us? First of all, it is a system so skewed for odd candidates that it needs to be reassessed. I prefer primaries to caucuses because the voters are a little more mainstream.

Second thing to learn from Iowa is the way to campaign. The top three candidates had mastered one of the top three ways to win elections. Santorum had a ground game and got his vote out by retail politics. Paul has mastered new media and social networking to get his supporters to vote. And Romney mastered the ad war and being able to turn on the switch to locate voters that support him and get them to the caucus. But none of them have mastered all three. I think that’s why no one got over 30%.

The overall story of Iowa is that Mitt Romney will be the GOP nominee. His campaign showed the organization needed to win a long-term battle in the primaries. The only candidate I see who can fight in the long term is Newt. But he has to get second place in New Hampshire and win South Carolina and win Florida. I give it 5% odds. The rest are pretenders.

The GOP base, conservative movement, and Tea Party folks are in different stages of grief. Let them go through their personal grieving processes.  Don’t go, “Neener neener neener” on them. We need them to feel welcomed and a part of the process to defeat Obama. The writing is on the wall. It is checkmate in 5 moves if you are willing to see it. Jump aboard the Mittens train. There is plenty of run, and a lot of pissed off Newt supporters. I am one.