Honestly, for a few weeks, I forgot Rick Santorum was running for the GOP nomination. Growing up in Pennsylvania, I guess I have a tendency to dismiss Santorum. Not because he wasn’t a good Senator or something like that, but rather because his message was not broadly received in PA and as a result, he lost to now Senator Casey. When a candidate loses a Senate race in a state like PA, I assume that means the candidate also does not have the support necessarily to win a national election. This is true of Santorum.
What I forgot was that a candidate like Santorum could still win in Iowa.
I was reminded by a close friend last night. Winning Iowa doesn’t even matter, he texted around 8:30 PM. He’s right. Iowa can only hurt you (see, Michele Bachmann).
I’m not disparaging the Iowa caucuses, but I had forgotten some of the candidates who previously did well there. Looking back tells us something about the importance of the first primary and the likelihood that Santorum lasts another two months. George H.W. Bush beat Ronald Reagan there in 1980. So, Romney (feeling like Reagan) isn’t worried. Though I wonder if Santorum’s name is now on some list of Vice Presidential possibilities. Bob Dole and Pat Robertson finished ahead of Bush Sr. in 1988. Perhaps Pat Robertson and Rick Santorum are the best analogy I could find. Lastly in 2008, Mike Huckabee won Iowa lasting until March 4th before ending his candidacy.
Ultimately, the only thing that happened to Santorum last night was that his candidacy has been extended before its inevitable end. The only questions that remain are how long will it take before he withdraws and how serious is Santorum as a leader of part of the GOP going forward. I do not think he’s a great VP candidate, but GOP candidates have surprised me in the past (see John McCain in 2008).
As for the other candidates, it is quick and easy.
Romney – probably sealed the nomination last night. He’ll obviously have a strong showing in New Hampshire (his type of Republicans) and if you can show a strong finish in Iowa, he can do the same in South Carolina. Not convincing victories but just enough to bring social conservatives and fiscal conservatives together and make him appear electable. He’s probably not electable going one-on-one with Obama during a long campaign, but he’s probably the best the GOP can hope for.
Perry – out.
Paul – same as ever.
Gingrich – an average showing with a strong likelihood to finish stronger in NH but ultimately not enough to overcome Romney’s advantages (his height, $$$ and endorsements from GOP leaders). He’s fun to watch and speculate about especially when he’s speaking off the cuff, but he’s too volatile to win the nomination (see Howard Dean in 2004).
Huntsman – out after NH. It’s never a good sign when, over Christmas, I brought up Jon Huntsman and my parents who are solid GOP votes each election cycle were not familiar with him. At the beginning, I thought he had some potential. Former governor. Obama’s choice for ambassador to China. Could have argued understanding both sides of the aisle. Just wasn’t his year. Perhaps it’s just not his type of Party anymore.
We’ll see how NH and SC turn out, but it’s Romney’s to lose and he is showing no signs of weakness.