Iowa’s caucus voting for Republican presidential candidates has narrowed the choice down to three, but, surprisingly, the 120,000 ballots cast put two of them neck and neck.
Mitt Romney’s edge over Rick Santorum was only eight votes (30,015 to 30,007). That has never happened in launching the primaries.
Romney’s failure to break the 25 percent barrier is attributed to weaker support among further-right conservatives, and wariness about him being a Mormon, no matter how responsible he sounded.
Romney said: “I’ll also do the work of finally getting ourselves to cut our federal spending and capping how much we spend and balancing our budget. I think it’s immoral for us to continue to spend our kids’ future, year after year.”
Romney has a robust campaign budget, and obviously many Iowans liked his successful business reputation.
Iowa voter Dan Dickman said: “I think we really need to see job creation. We’re still down almost seven million jobs from the peak employment in the past. I think we really need a candidate who understands the private sector of the economy much better than the current administration.”
Rick Santorum showed he knew what many Christian voters wanted to hear, saying: “Every morning when I was getting up in the morning to take on that challenge I required a strength from another particular friendship, one that is sacred. I’ve survived the challenges so far by the daily grace that comes from God.”
Consistently a family traditionalist and a promoter of tough love, Santorum’s economic populist message also convinced people.
Iowa voter Joyce Larson said: “He’s well-rounded, pro-life and the Christian part is not the only thing that he’s talking about, which we’ve heard a lot of. But he also is great on our government, on foreign policy. I liked what he had to say about balancing the budget.”
The more elderly Ron Paul placed third, with his mantra of less government and more individual freedom winning over some undecided voters.
Iowa voter Kim Moyle said of him: “I would consider myself independent. I’m fiscally conservative, but socially liberal, so I’m really having a hard time finding someone who fits my niche. Ron Paul, when I went through and I did the surveys and the polls to see on all the issues, he was my number one.”
The next stop on the Republican trail is the east coast state of New Hampshire, where Romney is heavily favoured – not like his skimpy lead over Santorum in the Midwest.
Romney’s shoo-in prospects
For more on the caucus process euronews spoke with a political expert in the US.
Stefan Grobe, euronews: Let’s analyse the outcome of the Iowa caucus now with Jeffry Frieden, a professor of government at Harvard University, who joins us from Boston. Good to have you here today. What do you make of Romney’s strong showing? Given that he is set to win New Hampshire next week, are we witnessing the definite victory of the Republican establishment over the Tea Party?
Jeffry Frieden: I think we are on track to witness that. Certainly, Romney’s good showing in Iowa was very good news for him. Iowa is a state whose Republican Party is much more conservative than the Republican Party in the country as a whole. And so the fact that Romney was able to win, even if it was only by eight votes, is good news for his ability to attract even the most conservative Republicans.
euronews: On the other hand, Romney doesn’t seem to inspire much excitement with the Republican rank and file, he is still in that 25-percent ghetto in the polls. Is Romney going to be the Republican nominee by default?
Frieden: Essentially, yes. And that does represent a problem for the Republican Party. Romney is almost certain to be the nominee of the Party, but he does not inspire enthusiasm among the more conservative members of the party. The right wing is where most of the activists come from, and if they are not enthusiastic about Romney, they are very unlikely to turn out to work for him during the general elections. So, the Republican Party does face a problem. And the problem is that the more conservative candidates probably don’t stand a chance of winning against Obama. But Romney, the more moderate candidate, doesn’t inspire the enthusiasm of the conservative activists. And that is a problem the Republican Party has to deal with.
euronews: Not one of his more conservative Republican rivals ran a negative TV ad against him in Iowa. Why is that so?
Frieden: I think the negative campaigning tends to backfire in many instances, especially if, as is likely to be the case, the person you are attacking ends up being the candidate. Because that can then be used against the party in the general election. It also may be the case that some of these more conservative rivals are angling for a vice presidential position on an eventual Romney ticket. So, perhaps they didn’t want to incur too much of his wrath in the run-up of what may eventually be a Romney ticket with somebody else.
euronews: It is a staple of Republican rhetoric that 2012 is the most fateful election in decades — a big and dangerous moment around which national destiny will hinge. Well, why is it then that many political commentators keep describing the Republican field of candidates as “disappointing”?
Frieden: I think it’s disappointing on two dimensions. First, it’s disappointing because it’s so fragmented. From the standpoint of the Republican Party itself, they would like to have a more united field. Instead, what you have is an extreme right-wing set of candidates, people like Bachmann and Santorum now who are not enthusiastic about Romney. Then you have Ron Paul who has gotten a lot of support from younger and more alienated voters. So, you have a field that is very disunited. The party seems very fragmented, so that’s one problem the Republicans face. The second problem is that many people would argue that the candidates that have been presented are not of the highest quality. I think that largely is due to the expectation that especially these days Obama may be in relatively good shape of winning the 2012 presidential election. The best candidates typically don’t want to run if they don’t stand a chance of winning, so it may be difficult for Republicans to attract better candidates.