From his perch in New Hampshire, Jon Huntsman Jr. offered a political assessment of the Iowa caucuses that only fellow Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney may want to embrace.
“Welcome to New Hampshire,” Huntsman, the former Utah governor who didn’t compete in Iowa, said at a town meeting in Peterborough yesterday. “Nobody cares.”
Iowa Republicans delivered a muddied result, giving almost equal votes to candidates who represent different poles of the party in Rick Santorum and Romney, and providing a respectable third-place showing to Texas Representative Ron Paul, a libertarian seen as having no chance of winning the party’s nomination.
Santorum, 53, who spent more time and less money in Iowa than any other candidate, trailed Romney by just eight votes, the state party said. A former Pennsylvania senator, Santorum built support among lower-income evangelicals in rural areas, CNN entrance polls showed. Romney, 64, the former Massachusetts governor, ran well in Iowa’s more prosperous suburbs yet drew a percentage of the overall vote that was roughly equal to what he got when he finished second in 2008.
Paul, 76, drew votes from an unusual coalition of young voters who are antiwar and favor drug legalization and fiscal conservatives who oppose the Federal Reserve.
On top of that, Iowans gave a double-digit, fourth-place finish to Newt Gingrich, 68, who called Romney a liar in an interview on CBS yesterday and vowed to attack him in New Hampshire.
New Hampshire Rematch
“Now the story is going to be ‘who in the hell is Rick Santorum’ and will he be the lead challenger to Romney?” said Mike Murphy, a Republican consultant who isn’t affiliated with a campaign. “Let’s have a rematch in New Hampshire and see where we are. Now, winning in New Hampshire means something to Romney.”
Murphy said he sees “a tension between social conservative purists and Republicans who want somebody who can beat Obama; it’s purity versus winnability.”
Santorum leaves Iowa with the momentum of a top-tier finish yet without the money and organization in primary states that follow. He and Romney also appeal to different brands of Republicans.
J. Ann Selzer, who conducts the Iowa Poll in the Des Moines Register that detected Santorum’s late rise, said the former senator and Romney are “very different candidates and have very different constituencies.”
“Romney represents the affluent, well-educated, well-heeled, and Santorum is more of the working class, ‘the economy has been bad to me’ Christian conservative guy,” said Selzer, who also conducts polls for Bloomberg News.
Social conservatives typically anoint a favorite in Iowa. This time, their failure to coalesce around a single candidate cost Santorum a more decisive victory and will likely winnow others from the race.
Tea Party activists, who have been the animating force within the Republican Party since delivering historic victories in the 2010 election that changed the balance of power in Congress, were split between Santorum and Paul, entrance polls showed. Romney trailed badly among those voters.
Paul also drew support from the climate of voter anger at establishment politicians in both parties, Selzer said. It showed in his results. In 2008, when he won 10 percent of the caucus vote, Paul carried only Jefferson County in southeastern Iowa, home to Maharishi University in Fairfield, a school founded to use transcendental meditation to foster a “consciousness-based” learning.
Tapping Tea Party
Since then, Paul has continued to build his following, and tapped into the Tea Party movement, which in turn led to the election of his son, Rand, to the U.S. Senate from Kentucky.
In the presidential nominating process so far, the Tea Party, like social conservatives, hasn’t bonded with a single candidate. The unifying energy among Republicans was their opposition to President Barack Obama.
“It is less a result of pragmatism and more the result of how the evangelical vote is splintered,” said Linda Fowler, a professor of government at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, site of the next primary Jan. 10.
“That makes Romney look much better than he would otherwise,” Fowler said. “What it means is if there had been a Mike Huckabee or only a Perry or Bachmann or Santorum, then Romney would not be looking like he is the inevitable nominee.”
Perry to Reassess
Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann, 55, leaves Iowa limping, along with Texas Governor Rick Perry, 61, who said he will return to his home state today to reassess his candidacy. Both had hoped that evangelical voters in Iowa would propel them.
Romney and his supporters used millions of dollars in ads to knock down the challenger who may have been the most serious long-term threat, former U.S. House Speaker Gingrich.
Gingrich signaled last night that those attacks will be answered in New Hampshire.
“There will be a great debate in the Republican Party before we are prepared to have a great debate with Barack Obama,” he said. He also congratulated Santorum.
“He waged a great, positive campaign. I wish I could say that for all the candidates,” said Gingrich, who criticized Romney as a “Massachusetts moderate who in fact will be pretty good at managing the decay of Washington.”
And Huntsman may be right. New Hampshire rarely takes its cues from Iowa.
In 1988 Bob Dole won Iowa and George H.W. Bush won New Hampshire; in 2000, George W. Bush captured Iowa and lost New Hampshire to John McCain; and, in 2008, Mike Huckabee took Iowa then lost to McCain in New Hampshire by 26 percentage points.