Commentary
12:33 pm
Thu January 5, 2012

What Iowa Really Meant for Mitt Romney and GOP candidates

If you are a political trivia buff, you may know that nobody from Michigan has ever been elected president. Gerald Ford, remember, was appointed vice president, took over when Richard Nixon resigned, and then lost his bid for election on his own.

In fact, nobody born in Michigan has ever been president at all. Ford was born in Nebraska. The closest we’ve actually come to a native son in the White House was Thomas E. Dewey, who was the Republican nominee twice in the nineteen-forties.

That would all change if Mitt Romney were elected. Though he is the former governor of Massachusetts, he was born in Detroit sixty-five years ago. He is still a long way from the White House, but the results in Iowa were a far bigger victory for him than commonly recognized. In fact, his chances of being the nominee would have increased even if he had lost to Rick Santorum.

Here’s why. Commentators were speculating that Democrats had to be hoping for a Santorum victory. Their reasoning was that the former Pennsylvania senator is so far right on social issues that he would be much easier for President Obama to defeat.

They may have been right about that. The gay community alone would fight hard to defeat him. But Santorum has little chance to be nominated for reasons that have nothing to do with ideology. A campaign like this is all about organization and money.

Santorum, who had campaigned almost exclusively in Iowa, has little of either. Donations are now flowing into his campaign, but he has the virtually impossible task of mounting a major effort in an avalanche of states coming up. For a comparison, look back twelve years, when John McCain won some early primaries, including Michigan. This annoyed George W. Bush’s campaign, but didn‘t really threaten it.  They had troops on the ground everywhere. In some states, the McCain forces hadn‘t even managed to put a full set of delegates together. His campaign was soon overwhelmed.

Romney has been preparing for four years. He is bound to win New Hampshire next week. Unless  somebody beats him in South Carolina and Florida later this month, the race may effectively be over even before Michigan holds its primary eight weeks from now.

Naturally, something could upset this scenario. If both those Southern states reject Romney, and other candidates drop out and back his rival, he might have a real problem.

But the nightmare scenario for Michigan’s favorite son probably isn’t Rick Santorum, it is Ron Paul. He is organized. He has a dedicated cadre of mostly young enthusiasts, and a solid core of supporters. It is close to impossible to imagine Paul ever being nominated by the Republicans. He is still essentially a libertarian. His views on military and social issues are left of even most Democrats.

But it is also hard to imagine Paul quietly going away. He is seventy-six, and must know that, one way or another, this is bound to be his last hurrah. There’s a possibility that at some point, he could decide to launch an independent bid for the White House.

That, as Romney knows too well, would be likely to ensure the reelection of President Obama. Whatever happens next, there’s bound to be excitement and suspense ahead.