What did we learn from the Iowa caucuses?

The results are Romney and Santorum tied at 25% each with Ron Paul in a close third at 22%. Gingrich finishes 4th with 13%, Perry 5th at 9%, Bachman 6th at 5% and Huntsman last at 1%. Bachman is now gone. Perry was almost gone, but now he is almost back. Romney is touting his “win”, but he only beat Santorum by 8 votes. (And actually got 6 votes less than he did in 2008.)

FYI, Romney spent $49 for each vote, Santorum spent less than $1 per vote. Also, FYI, the voter turnout for the caucuses was about 122,250. On a pretty day with no snow. (The weather can be a major issue in turnout for the Iowa caucuses.) The turnout in 2008 was about 120,000. On a cold, windy day. The fact that the Republicans could not turn out a higher number of voters on a pretty day with a fairly uniform “We have to make sure Barack Obama is a one term president” message might suggest something.

What’s next? New Hampshire. Romney wins new Hampshire hands down with around 50% of the vote. The big question in New Hampshire is who finishes second and third and do they get a real chunk of the vote. Romney gets 50% of the vote. The other 5 candidates split the other 50%. Does any one of them get 20% or 30%, or do they all get about 10% each? Paul fades fast. All of his focus and organization and limited money were in Iowa. (And he’s a nut. Abolish the IRS. Really? How does the federal government function without tax revenue?) Santorum is/was the Republican flavor of the week. And has no money. (Although his finish in Iowa may help in the short term.) And as Republican voters get to know him, they might not like him any more than they liked Bachman, Perry, or Gingrich once they were under the microscope. Huntsman (who is probably the smartest/most qualified Republican candidate, not that Republicans vote for smart people) basically skipped Iowa, but he will get less than 10% in New Hampshire. I don’t expect a breakout candidate in New Hampshire. If anybody other than Romney gets 15%, that will be a major “victory.”

South Carolina is next. Perry and Gingrich will both do well in South Carolina, assuming they are still around. (Gingrich in particular. Perry has lots of money. Gingrich does not.) Because they are both Southern boys, I have assumed they would stick around at least until after South Carolina because they might do well there. As long as Romney doesn’t absolutely crash and burn, he does okay. At this point, South Carolina looks like essentially a three way tie between Romney, Perry and Gingrich.

Florida is next. I see Florida as the toss up. In large part, the issue might be who is still left standing. (After New Hampshire and South Carolina.) I predict Romney wins Florida. Santorum could do well in Florida. Perry, Gingrich and Paul are way down the list.

Nevada is next. Romney wins Nevada hands down. Huntsman, Perry and Gingrich fight for a distant second. (Assuming they are still around.) If Romney isn’t the Republican candidate after South Carolina, he will be after Nevada.

But can any Republican candidate beat Barack Obama in November, 2012? Let me suggest that the fight in the Republican party helps Barack Obama in two ways. First, all of the Republicans attacking each other does some amount of damage, both to the individual candidates and to the party label. Second, the Republicans are spending a LOT of money fighting each other. Barack Obama is raising lots of money which he will be sitting on when the general election rolls around.

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by Michael Baumer