After his speech, the room cleared quickly.
Logically there is a path forward, while optically there probably isn’t. Ronald Reagan didn’t win Iowa in 1980 but we all know how that turned out. New Hampshire may not validate anything coming out of Iowa. Jon Huntsman will make a stand of some sort there, and he must take on Romney to have any hope of winning. Newt Gingrich may well launch that revenge candidacy I wrote about earlier. That will change the race, driving both his and Mitt Romney’s negatives up, maybe sky high. Despite his strong showing tonight, Rick Santorum remains a candidate without much of a campaign and his record is unvetted. The big question of his campaign right now is simple: Does it have legs, especially in New Hampshire, where Santorum’s deeply socially conservative message probably won’t play as well as it did in Iowa. He will face a massive air campaign by a very organized Romney machine. Ron Paul’s best shot left him in a disappointing third, and in the end his foreign policy views render him unelectable. The divided vote shows continuing weakness in Romney. There are two debates coming in the next week, debates in which Santorum and Gingrich are sure to attack Romney and in which Santorum is about to get his turn as the candidate of the moment, moments which have ended up with sinking candidates. All of this leaves an opening for someone to make a move, and Bachmann’s sixth place finish rules her out. Perry has money and a ground game but had already signaled he would skip New Hampshire and is low in the polls in South Carolina, where he would logically make his stand. Fundraising will get tough after placing fifth in Iowa and there is much ground to be made up.
The 13 debates leading up to Iowa may have changed the rules of campaigning this year. The politics 101 route just may not cut it anymore. Candidacies that were not otherwise viable by the traditional rules — no money, or staff, or rationale — lasted longer than they would have in a typical year, keeping the field crowded. One candidate who was viable at least on paper, former MN Gov. Tim Pawlenty, went to an early exit. Records have mattered less than bites and lines and gaffes. Debates led to media exposure which led to buoyancy in the polls, which led to vetting and sinking and the rise of someone else. It has been a vicious cycle that Rick Santorum managed to time to perfection.
Congratulations are in order for Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. Santorum roared in from single digits to the head of the pack in the span of a week. Iowa’s choices have probably led to Romney capturing the GOP nomination eventually. But who knows, really? If the rules have changed as much as they seem to have, the machine aspects of campaigning may have rusted out.
Update: The governor is staying in the race and heading to South Carolina.