Skip to content

All eyes on Iowa caucuses

On Tuesday, Repub lican pres i den tial can di date Mitt Romney won the Iowa cau cuses by a grand total of eight votes over Rick San torum, whose surging can di dacy over shad owed the former Mass a chu setts governor’s slim vic tory. We asked polit ical sci ence pro fessor William Crotty, who spe cial izes in Amer ican polit ical par ties and elec tions, to ana lyze the impli ca tions of the opening round of the GOP race for the White House.

From a historical perspective, how important are the results of the Iowa caucuses in determining the Republican nomination for president?

The Iowa cau cuses are a curious animal; there is no good argu ment that I can think of to give Iowans the leadoff spot in the elec tion year. The state is about as much of a rep re sen ta tive of the country as a whole as Idaho: Social con ser v a tives and Chris tian fun da men tal ists dom i nate the make-​​up of Repub lican caucus-​​voters, which is a point that is not often made clear

His tor i cally speaking, the Iowa results have a mediocre record in choosing even tual Repub lican nom i nees and a dismal record in choosing even tual pres i den tial win ners. So the ques tion is, “Why Iowa?” The answer is that cam paigning in Iowa gives cred i bility to a can di date, strengthens fundraising and pro vides enor mously increased media attention.

How does Romney’s slim margin of victory reflect his chances of winning the Republican nomination? Has Rick Santorum’s surging candidacy made him a viable alternative to Romney and a legitimate candidate to beat Barack Obama?

Rick San torum is arguably the most socially con ser v a tive of the can di dates, given his views on abor tion, gay mar riage and in-​​home schooling among other issues, but he nonethe less achieved a remark able vic tory. He is not, how ever, likely to be able to sus tain his suc cess, given his lim ited orga ni za tional capa bil i ties, his meager fundraising, and the fact that he has not orga nized exten sively in other states. Fur ther, he has gotten a pass in run ning a grass roots level retail cam paign with little to no TV ads and fin ishing in the polls at or near the bottom of the pack, until the run-​​up to his showing Tuesday. He has not received the intense vet ting of other can di dates and he has not been the object of attacks by other can di dates to date.

I see the San torum chal lenge as the latest [man i fes ta tion of] anybody-​​but-​​Romney sen ti ment among Repub li cans. His close second-​​place finish is the best pos sible out come that Romney could have hoped for, but I do not see this empha sized in the media. Romney’s showing, also unex pected until about a week ago, is an enor mous accom plish ment. Given the Iowa out come and the fact that he is well ahead in New Hamp shire, I believe Romney is assured of the nom i na tion. Rick San torum is not a serious alter na tive and the other can di dates have had their day in the sun and then essen tially failed. I believe Romney thinks the same. His speech after the Iowa vote to sup porters was totally aimed at Pres i dent Obama and the gen eral elec tion and raised the issues that he will use in the fall campaign.

The real chal lenge to Romney would have come from Newt Gin grich, if he could have over come his past prob lems and gotten him self in a posi tion to com pete effec tively. That’s why the Super Pac sup porting Romney focused on Newt in a fierce neg a tive TV campaign.

Ron Paul received more than 21 percent of the caucus votes, owing largely to young supporters who showed up in droves to back the 76-year-old candidate. Will Paul be able to depend on young voters to keep him competitive in states such as New Hampshire?

Ron Paul is a dif ferent type of can di date. As he him self has said, he does not see him self having break fast in the White House. His vote and pat terns of sup port will be rel a tively con sis tent in the more con ser v a tive states and will con tinue to appeal to lib er tarian ide o logues and the young and first-​​time voters. His sup port in Iowa was con cen trated among the young, the less finan cially well off, more independent-​​minded voters and first-​​timers in the cau cuses. It’s a much dif ferent pat tern of voter sup port com pared to that of Romney, who did well among the older and more mod erate Repub li cans opposed to the Tea Party, the higher-​​income groups, the college-​​educated and those who believe the economy and elec tability are the most impor tant considerations.

Paul is no threat for the nom i na tion to any fron trunner. His inten tion appears to be to influ ence Repub lican Party thinking and its even tual plat form. Even then, there are ques tions, given his views on issues, including his sup port for the Pales tinians, and his oppo si tion to the wars presently under way.

– by Jason Kornwitz

More Stories

Photo of the Capitol Building at night

High stakes for politics, SCOTUS in 2018

Photo of the crashed truck that was used in the October 31st attack in Manhattan.

Weaponizing Language: How the meaning of “allahu akbar” has been distorted

Northeastern logo

Why I love studying Spanish