Last night Iowans gathered for their caucuses. The Democrats (of which party I'm a member) didn't really caucus so much as have a conversation with the incumbent President.
I'm sure the Democrats had a good time, but they were not the focus of attention. All eyes were on the Republican caucuses, and the results proved rather interesting. I have no dog in this dog and pony show, so I'm more interested in what this election says about the Republican Party. So, here are my observations:
- Rick Santorum won last night -- even if he fell 8 votes short of Mitt Romney. Romney can claim he didn't put much effort into the state, but he's been running for President for more than four years and basically held serve. Santorum was in single digits just a week or so ago, with the pundits asking him when he would drop out.
- Rick Santorum is more than a single issue candidate. I hadn't paid much attention to him -- and the press hasn't either -- but his message on rebuilding the manufacturing base in America may have blue collar appeal. He also seems likable and lacks the hubris of Romney.
- Newt Gingrich is mad, and thus all gloves are off. Watch for him to do everything in his power to take down Romney, whose SuperPac spent millions going after Newt.
- The Conservative--anti-Romney effort seems ready to pare down its choices (Perry drops out, Bachman likely drops out), Newt goes down quickly but throwing punches at Mitt, leaving Santorum as the last man standing.
- Generational shifts -- I noticed an interesting point in one of those CNN analyses. Romney had a big lead among those over 65. Santorum seems to have garnered a lot of GenX and Baby Boom support, while Paul, the oldest person in the field, continues to attract the Millennials with his isolationist and libertarian message.
- Money and infrastructure. Romney has both, but the question is -- where does the Perry money and infrastructure go? I think, though I'm no expert, that it goes to Santorum.
- The Republican Party has become a far right party -- so the question is, can it attract those in the middle. Romney's history as governor shows he knows how, but has he gone too far right to pivot back?
- South Carolina, not New Hampshire, will likely offer the best glimpse at where this goes.
In closing, from the perspective of a Democrat, watching with interest these debates and votes, I do believe that this is a rather weak field working for the GOP nomination. I think that President Obama, if the economy cooperates, can close the deal. He's a good campaigner, tends to look long term, can claim strong foreign policy successes, and he's the known quantity. While there's always the possibility he can be beat, there doesn't seem to be much enthusiasm for Romney, and there is a lot of baggage that can drag him down -- most especially his own corporate history as head of a firm best known for taking over companies and down-sizing them. He was not so much a job creator, as a job diminish-er. He knows how to fire, but does he know how to hire.
So, on to New Hampshire!!