The waiting is finally over, the first real election day of the 2012 campaign, kicks off in the U.S. State of Iowa this evening, with the latest polls still showing some 41% of caucus going Republicans no closer to a decision on who to support, then they were six months ago. One thing is certain, they will arrive at their decision at one of 1,774 GOP precinct caucuses shortly after 7 p.m. EST this evening.
The settled top three candidates by most polls appears to be Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and the grandstand finisher, former Senator Rick Santorum making up the top three. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich who has been the target of almost $3 million of negative advertising by Ron Paul and the Mitt Romney affiliated Super Pac groups has seen his support in the polls plummet.
A number of different pundits have been casting their varying opinions over what the outcome will mean for the GOP candidates and the GOP race as a whole post Iowa. Iowa matters not so much in terms of who wins, but it does matter in terms of who loses and campaign finance. Iowa is a launching pad, but is not the finishing point and people need to keep that fact in perspective. The media presence alone in Iowa tells you it does matter and positive or negative reporting can benefit or hurt candidates is equal measure.
Credit should go to Senator Santorum who has practically lived in Iowa with his family for the last three months, travelling around in a pick up truck visiting all 99 counties and shaking hands. There is no doubt that his commitment to the state and his social conservative values has resulted in him gaining the evangelical support in the closing week. Santorum will receive a vital and much needed financial boost ahead of the three remaining January primaries.
In truth however, the GOP race is really about three candidates, Mitt Romney the millionaire former Governor from Massachusetts, former speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Governor Rick Perry. Romney and his campaign team have been very effective at dealing Gingrich a major blow in Iowa, but Iowa was always an aspirational rather than a likely victory for Gingrich. Gingrich really must win in South Carolina where Romney will do well to place third. The real driver of this GOP race will be decided in Florida and who goes forward thereafter.
Iowa & New Hampshire have great traditions, the other candidates whether it is financial constraints, poor strategy or eccentric policy positions will not be electable in the long run. The Republican race will essentially be Romney against the conservative candidate who will either be Gingrich or Santorum come the party convention in Tampa, Florida, come August.
Contrary to popular opinion, I still believe Texas Governor Rick Perry could emerge to be the biggest threat to Romney for a number of reasons. He is a proven traditional conservative in his values, he can attract large financial support to prolong his campaign where other candidates will struggle and above all, he has a very successful record of governing.
Former Governor Romney clearly has been the establishment pick for the nomination and pollsters will try their level best to convince you, that he is the only candidate capable of beating President Obama. I do not concur with that opinion; I believe there are five candidates out of the remaining seven on substantive policy issues that could beat President Obama. My over riding concern with Mitt Romney is that he simply doesn’t like to be challenged and will fall apart under a relentless barrage from the Obama campaign. Romney hasn’t been challenged yet and if he does come under any real sustained attack, I believe he will crumble.
The Obama team have spent considerable time and money expecting a likely Romney win and an early Romney victory in the GOP primary campaign will assist the Democrats and hurt the Republicans in the general election. The longer the primary campaign goes on and the more, all the candidates are tested on their positions and policies in a meaningful and constructive way, the better it will be for party and country. America needs candidates who have a vision with the ideas, solutions and leadership to restore it to greatness. It doesn’t need another election delivered on sound bites and expensive media buys, substance has got to be the issue.
Iowa does matter because it will reduce the size of the field in a matter of weeks however, more importantly, it will also leave less places for those remaining to hide away from their records and policy positions.
I love the tradition of Iowa and all it offers presidential politics however, we must get it into the right perspective, it is not a decisive part of the election race, it is not the end all or be all that some commentators try to portray it as, there are still 49 state races to follow.
Iowa plays host in its finest traditions to the real presidential politicking we all crave, and what it does deliver is a whittling down of the field. The whittling down of the field in this election year is unlike elections will be crucial, as the focus has to be on policy and not personality going forward.
The Republican Party can only win the 2012 election by selling a vision with ideas and solutions to the American people. If the candidates and party make it about personalities in the primaries or general election then they are certain to lose.
Observers should be aware that with the revised primary calendar and changed party rules, the race for 2012 could well be much longer and less predictable then many people and commentators believe.