Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for president that Barack Obama fears the most, won the Iowa caucus last night by eight votes over former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. Both candidates ended up with about 25 percent of the vote, yet Romney’s campaign outspent Santorum in Iowa by a margin of around 100–1. A SuperPAC backing Romney had spent close to an additional $3 million in Iowa by the end of December, while one supporting Santorum spent a mere $347,000, according to the Des Moines Register.
How could Romney’s spending advantage and favorable polling results against Obama not have impressed Iowa Republicans enough to give him an indisputable victory? A big Iowa victory would have given him a stepping-stone to another victory in New Hampshire next week and a chance to try to “clear the field” of his remaining Republican rivals. But that didn’t happen in Iowa.
The reason is that 75 percent of Republican voters in numerous national polls are simply not interested in Mitt Romney. Those Republicans want a different candidate, one with a more conservative record. The Iowa results reflected that sentiment.
As one digs deeper into the Iowa tallies, it is clear that Mitt Romney is no stronger in 2012 than he was during his losing campaign for the Republican nomination in 2008. In 2008, Romney won 29,949 caucus votes, or 25.2 percent of the vote. At the time, it was seen as a disappointing result, because rival Mike Huckabee finished well above Romney, with 34.4 percent of the vote. Although Romney finished in first place last night by the thinnest of margins, his overall vote total of 30,015 — was just 66 votes more than he received in 2008 – and that was against what some pundits have referred to as a “weaker field of opponents” than he faces in this election.
Try as he may, Romney’s support repeatedly peaks at about 25 percent of the GOP. I fear that is not a marker of a candidate who can beat Barack Obama. Romney will need the enthusiastic support of Republicans to beat Obama in November. But if there is now any candidate who is destined to lose steam in the race for the presidency as a result of his tepid Iowa showing, it is not Mitt Romney.
In this sense, Romney was defeated last night.
Yet Romney was not a biggest loser last night. While Michele Bachmann’s campaign has been running on fumes for months now, and is simply going nowhere, the biggest loser last night was….