South Carolina may put an end to Mitt Romney’s claim to inevitability. Indeed, if the polls that show Newt “Open Marriage” Gingrich surging into a competitive—perhaps even a top—position in the Palmetto state primary are right, the premise that Republicans favor anyone-but-Romney will be well established.
But Romney was never as inevitable as he seemed for a few weeks there.
Yes, he had the most money, Yes, he had some good endorsements. But Republican despise the guy. Seventy-five percent of Iowa Republican Caucus goers went out to the trouble of leaving their homes, driving to school auditoriums and community centers and spending an hour or so caucusing for the sole purpose of opposing Romney. Sixty percent of New Hampshire Republican Primary voters sent the same signal a week later.
But Romney secured the “inevitable” tag when he became—in the language of the breathless horse-race coverage that passes for political reporting—“the first Republican challenger in the modern primary system’s 35-year history to win both New Hampshire and the Iowa caucus, establishing a formidable lead in the contest to pick a candidate to face Barack Obama in November’s presidential election.”
Even before the New Hampshire win—which was always pretty much a given for the New England candidate who essentially lives in the Granite State—no less a GOP commentator than former White House political czar Karl Rove was suggesting that the Iowa caucus results represented a huge coup for the unloved front-runner. Rove wrote in the Wall Street Journal on January 5 about “A Big Win for Romney in Iowa.”
Some of us questioned at the time whether an eight-vote advantage (out of 123,503 cast) qualified for the “big win” title. But because of the way that the Iowa results produce a headline that tends to define the next stages of the nominating process, the fact that Romney came out on top—even by the narrowest of margins—was a big deal.
Because, of course, Romney did not “win”Iowa.
Or, at least, it looks like Romney lost.
The Iowa Republican Party has released the “final, certified totals of the January 3 Iowa Caucus presidential preference vote,” and they show Rick Santorum with 29,839 votes to 29,805 for Romney.
Now, some will say that a thirty-four-vote lead is not exactly a landslide.
But Santorum’s “certified”lead is four times as substantial as Romney’s preliminary “big win.”
Unfortunately, Santorum’s claim to “victory” is muddied by the fact that the Iowa Republican Party’s back-room counting operation could not find and certify the results from eight precincts, where hundreds of votes were cast in the preference poll.