Iowa results and looking forward at a new race

Originally posted at AMERICAblog Elections: The Right’s Field

The final Iowa results:

Romney, 24.55% (30,015 votes)
Santorum, 24.54% (30,007 votes)
Ron Paul, 21.45% (26,219 votes)
Gingrich, 13.29% (16,251 votes)
Perry, 10.3% (12,604 votes)
Bachmann, 4.97% (6,073 votes)
Huntsman (745 votes)
No preference (135 votes)
Other (117 votes)
Cain (58 votes)
Roemer (31 votes)

Kombiz and Matt Ortega got the top three order correct, though none of us had them bunched so tightly.

Rick Perry has returned to Texas to “reassess the results,” which is what people usually do hours before they officially end their campaigns. On the up side, by not formally ending his campaign, he can still continue to pay his staff.

Michele Bachmann barely out-performed her Ames Straw Poll results, but did not bow out last night.

Newt Gingrich made clear in his speech last night that he’s angry about the negative attacks from Mitt Romney and his surrogate Super PACs. Gingrich will be going on the attack on Romney’s record, which Newt pointed out doesn’t mean he’s launching negative attacks if it so happens that Romney’s record of flip-flops doesn’t reflect well on him. Gingrich is an adept negative campaigner, so don’t underestimate his potential to hurt Romney in debates and on the airwaves in coming weeks.

Obviously the big winner of the night was Rick Santorum, who benefited from being the Last Anti-Romney Standing. He spent more time in Iowa than any other candidate and was successful at telling his store as a committed conservative., especially once he rose in the polls and suddenly had the air of viability. Romney, on the other hand, badly misplayed the expectations game in the press. As a result, an 8 vote win is universally being seen by reporters as at best a tie, or more likely a Santorum win.

Looking forward, this is a three candidate race between Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Anti-Romney. Anti-Romney for the moment seems like Rick Santorum, but he doesn’t have the campaign infrastructure needed to compete in a long primary. Either other campaigns (Perry, Gingrich, and Bachmann) will have to bow to Santorum through donors and endorsements, or there will have to be a resurgence from Gingrich into the role of Anti-Romney. Ron Paul has the grassroots support to be a competitor over a long primary, but I’m not convinced that the Gingrich’s and Perry’s of the world would lend their support to him to help defeat Romney.

Romney is going to go into New Hampshire and win with ease. The only question will be if Santorum can solidify conservative support and earn a meaningful result. Watch for who endorses Santorum in coming days and if there is a shift of donors to him, as well as the launch or refocus of any Super PACs to support Santorum and do the dirty work of going negative on Romney.

Romney went through Iowa without a single negative ad directed at him – that’s a streak that will probably be over before today is done. Given the impact that negative ads had in Iowa against other candidates, I have to assume that it’s reflective of the fact that Republican base voters are willing to take in new information about their candidates and consider it in their assessment of these candidates. This contributed to the volatility of the Republican field over the last year and does not yet show signs of stopping. Of course, when Republicans go negative on Romney it will look a lot like the sort of attacks the DNC have been making on Romney and will cut directly at his lack of conviction and ever-changing beliefs. Thus my belief that there is still space for an Anti-Romney to take the nomination, Rick Santorum or otherwise.

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