Feb 8, 2012
By Steffen Schmidt
By Steffen Schmidt
The triple-header victory by Rick Santorum on Tuesday, Feb. 7 was a huge rush for Santorum but also raises much larger questions about the 2012 GOP field.
First, Santorum, with modest funding but a lot of heart and energy blew away his opponents. In Minnesota his 45% left the others in the blizzard. Ron Paul’s 27% keeps him alive and is consistent with the percentages he’s been getting. The Revolution lives! Mitt Romney had 17%, which is a weak and disappointing showing. Worse yet, Newt Gingrich only got 11%, which should be alarming.
In Colorado Santorum’s 40% to Romney’s 35% was a solid showing. Gingrich and Paul trailed barley in double digits. In Missouri Santorum finally broke the GOP barrier hitting 55% more than twice what Romney harvested. Paul had 12% and Gingrich didn’t play.
This now propels Santorum to “front runner” status at least in the eyes of the media. He has won four states (remember he actually won in the Iowa caucuses) Romney won Florida, New Hampshire, and Nevada. Of course, “front runner” requires you to maintain that position and this year I’m not betting 5 cents much less 10K on who will be in the lead after Super Tuesday.
Remember that the Santorum victories were non-binding so the delegate count is not altered (but Iowa also awarded no delegates). Santorum has very little money against Romney but money, as I’ve said before, is not everything, otherwise Santorum would not have won four contests! However as one of my astute friends said, “Santorum has a Huckabee smile and is the most likable of the four candidates.” That’s something you can’t buy.
Second, let’s now raise the larger issues demonstrated by events over the past two months. The critical question is whom do Republicans actually want to see as their candidate?
For several weeks there was a musical chairs of winners from Iowa to Nevada. It looked like Romney was getting some real “front runner” traction after the Nevada caucuses. HOWEVER, polls showed that many Republican voters were not enthusiastic about him. He was the least bad of a field of four who continued to elbow each other as they scuffled for attention.
Then there is another problem. Newt Gingrich has huge negatives even while a segment of the GOP base is enthusiastic about him as a sharper candidate against Obama in November. Gingrich is mad as hell and many feel that there is more than politics at work with Gingrich pressing a vendetta against Romney.
The fourth candidate, Ron Paul, has been declared a non-Republican who should be running as a Libertarian. Unfortunately, Paul nevertheless still wicks off enough GOP voters in these contests to shrink the victories of the other three.
It’s an extraordinary year when GOP voters seem divided into four distinct groups with some regional factors added. Are these divisions deep and irreconcilable? In other words, once this is over and the GOP gets a candidate to run against Obama the differences will vanish into thin air and Gingrichites will then enthusiastically vote for Santorum, or Romneyites support Newt in November if he gets the nomination?
I don’t know the answer. The standard spin is that Hillary Clinton’s supporters were mad as hell when she lost the nomination in 2008 but they voted for Obama in November. I’m not sure the divisions between Clinton and Obama were as deep and raw as the one’s between at least Gingrich and Romney.
We will anxiously wait to see what misfortune in Super Pac ads now descends on poor Rick Santorum!
Steffen W. Schmidt is a University Professor of Political Science and Public Policy (also Coastal Zone Management) at Iowa State University, an affiliate of Nova Oceanographic Center, the author of 11 books, he has more than 40 years analyzing the Iowa Caucuses, is a Des Moines Register blogger, a CNN en Español analyst and commentator and is the Chief Political Correspondent of InsiderIowa.com. Photo © Stan Brewer