The dismal, nasty campaign here was not good for the Republican Party or the country. There was precious little debate on anything other than who literally was Holier than Thou; the dollars spent on attack ads were, vote for vote, enormous.
According to The Huff Post, one GOP top finisher is unpopular with the base; another is too far out of the mainstream to be nominated, let alone elected; the third lost his last Senate race, in Pennsylvania, by 17 points, and is far to the right of the country on social issues.
Projections put the GOP turnout at about 118,000 votes, roughly the same as 2008, a year in which the Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama race drew twice as many participants.
In other words, the turnout was not the kind of show of interest and enthusiasm that would presage a Republican surge next fall.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, emerges from Iowa with his front-runner status intact, his well-funded campaign ready for a months-long fight.
Romney appears to be getting almost exactly what he got the time before — and in many cases he was probably getting the very same voters. That wasn’t enough to light a fire last time; it’s hard to see how it lights a fire this time.
The conventional wisdom is that, by besting former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry — his two wealthiest and most charismatic opponents — Romney did what he needed to do.
As for Santorum, he emerged as the champion of the “values voters,” and does have a good record as a solid conservative on most non-cultural issues.
He also hails from a blue state that the Republicans would love to win, Pennsylvania, where he won two state-wide Senate races. He did so even though he is from Pittsburgh, which is a hard place from which to get elected state-wide.
A key question now is whether Santorum, who has little national campaign structure or money after making Iowa the focus of his effort, can turn himself into a nationally appealing, anti-Romney alternative for conservative voters.
Santorum, who peppers his speeches with religious and anti-abortion references, will also have to prove that he can stretch his appeal beyond the most conservative elements of the Republican Party.
“Democratic heavyweights are quietly celebrating tonight,” David Gergen, a former adviser to two Republican and two Democratic presidents, told Reuters. “They see the presumed (Republican) nominee, Mitt Romney, unable to close the deal and a Republican electorate not only uncertain, but lacking great enthusiasm.”
As Romney continues to tussle with Republican foes in upcoming primaries, Gergen said, “Obama’s campaign – which otherwise might be in trouble” amid concerns about the economy and government spending – “has time to raise money and hone its message.”
Gingrich, a former House of Representatives speaker, finished fourth and leaves Iowa stewing over seeing his status atop public opinion polls toppled by biting TV ads put out by an independent group that supports Romney.
Ron Paul, with a superb and focused organization and angry message of antagonism to all Powers That Be, is not considered a mainstream candidate outside of his own libertarian ranks. He did show surprising strength among evangelicals here, winning what the entrance polls said was 20 percent of their vote.
A candidate who favors the gold standard, a withdrawal of all American military forces from the world — and whose old newsletters contain racist, homophobic and just plain weird ideas — cannot get the Republican nomination, let alone win the presidency.
The Iowa result sets up a fascinating showdown on January 21 in South Carolina, another state with a strong Republican conservative electorate.
“What comes out of Iowa is not a clear picture,” said Tad Devine, a Democratic strategist. “Romney is a guy who got 25 percent of the vote four years ago. There is a lot of incentive for the (other Republicans) to keep going.”