Jan 05, 2012 1:35 AM GMT
Iowa may not have given Mitt Romney the clear victory he was hoping for, but it proved to be no field of dreams for his likely election opponent — President Obama.
The virtual dead heat in the Heartland was no game-changer, and it did nothing to slow Romney’s likely march to the nomination — and that’s not good news for the White House.
While the surprising Rick Santorum came close to an upset, the end result was more of a muddle than a mandate, with none of Romney’s conservative rivals gaining a huge momentum boost.
More troubling news for Obama: The GOP turnout in Iowa was projected to be larger than in 2008, despite perceived dissatisfaction with the candidates. Independents also came out in large numbers, and Sen. John McCain will endorse Romney in New Hampshire, further cementing his hold on the state.
Democrats point out that the former Massachusetts governor finished with the same percentage in Iowa that he got four years ago, and was running even with someone given almost no chance a few weeks ago, Santorum.
But if Romney gets a double-digit win in New Hampshire, which is no sure thing, he is positioned to outlast his rivals as the race heads South.
The results from the Hawkeye State mean while there isn’t much enthusiasm yet for a Republican nominee, there is still plenty of motivation for Republicans to keep Obama from winning a second term in November.
Romney is not likely to lock up the nomination soon, just because most conservatives still want someone else. The next contest is South Carolina, where Romney has struggled.
But even if a conservative challenger such as Santorum or even Newt Gingrich emerges, Romney is likely to put away the former Pennsylvania senator and the rest of the field some time in February.
That means Romney will have a one-on-one contest against a weak incumbent president for about eight months, giving him time to raise plenty of cash and make amends with the conservative base.
The bad news for Romney is he has a long way to go with that base, considering three quarters of Iowa caucus-goers rejected him, and even many in New Hampshire and other states are lukewarm. Look for Romney to talk a lot about his conservative credentials after New Hampshire.
But the real battle in November is for the middle, and that’s where Romney could be the strongest. Mitt already holds a lead against Obama in national polling, and even a generic GOP candidate is running about even.
So even if the GOP race drags on for a while, Obama will still be a vulnerable incumbent heading into the general election. And barring a collapse, Romney will likely be there waiting for him.
So while the White House might have gotten a chuckle out of the GOP prat-falling and shape-shifting over the last few months, the real joke is this: Obama is in trouble even against a weak field.