We asked PostOpinions columnists, bloggers and editors who would win Tuesday night’s Iowa caucuses and why. Read all the PostOpinions predictions, as well as analysis of Iowa from Richard Cohen, Michael Gerson, Eugene Robinson, Jennifer Rubin and Marc Thiessen.
As of this morning, 41 percent of Iowans were undecided. On the surface, this seems absurd. What thunderbolt are caucus goers expecting to clarify their choice? After months of candidate jockeying, a dozen debates, thousands of ads and millions of dollars spent, how could Iowans not know which candidate they prefer the day before they vote?
The simple answer is that no one candidate fills the bill. As one caucus-goer put it on MSNBC: “I like pieces of all of them.” The other reason is that the caucuses themselves provide valuable information. Not only to voters get to hear a final pitch from a representative of each candidate, but they also get to observe the quality of the campaign itself. Iowans say they’re interested in the issues foremost, but they’re also watching closely to see how candidates run their campaigns, figuring they’ll run the country the same way.
If a candidate such as Newt Gingrich doesn’t get himself on a ballot, as was the case in Virginia, then voters are likely to see a problem with that candidate. Likewise, if a candidate is well-organized, well, you get the drift. Romney, whose campaign is a marvel of spreadsheets, prevails in this category.
The well-organized candidate is also likely to have the most representatives at the caucuses, which gives him an obvious advantage. Conventional wisdom has it that Romney came late to the game in Iowa, figuring initially that he would concentrate his resources and energies elsewhere. But Romney was always organizing behind the scenes. He always had a Plan B ready to roll out, and that rollout is well underway. It is not for the weather that Romney is spending Tuesday night in Iowa.
Santorum’s “sudden”surge is anything but sudden. He may have only now caught the people’s wave of affection and the media’s attention, but Santorum has been plowing Iowa’s field not for months, but for years. He told me of his first trip to Iowa at least two, maybe two-and-a-half years ago. He has visited all 99 counties, worked long days that sometimes included as many as 11 appearances, and, it’s a fair guess, has made eye contact with half the state’s population. In the most retail political state of all, he wins Most Valuable Wal-Mart greeter. Moreover, Santorum is easy to know. Fresh-faced and honest to a fault, he doesn’t have to fake bonhomie. Most important in this part of America, he’s the truest social conservative of the lot. Additionally, his depth of knowledge in foreign policy, thanks to his recent years as a foreign policy dot-connector at the Ethics and Public Policy Institute, make him a more well-rounded candidate than most knew. Santorum’s rise is not only understandable, but now seems to have been inevitable.
Ron Paul, the man considered more movement than candidate, will finish third for two reasons. Iowans know he can’t be president, but they appreciate the blunt honesty he brings to the table. And Democrats and independents, who are allowed to register as Republicans for the caucuses (and then switch back), will vote for him.
The order of these placements is neither accidental nor insignificant. Rather they represent the order of America’s priorities in this election year. First is the economy, and most believe Romney has the best skills for turning things around. In the hierarchy of Oz, he is the GOP’s brain. Next comes Santorum, who is the heart of traditional values. He has always, not only recently, been a warrior for traditional marriage and life from conception. His own life reflects these commitments beyond any doubt and, though they may not matter as much to the general electorate, they are crucial in this conservative, largely Christian, community of voters.
Not least, Paul is a lion of courage, who says all the things others dare not. Some of those things are regrettable, as old, scavenged newsletters published in his name reveal. But much of what he says is what many people think on a gut level. Even if they don’t buy it, they’re grateful that someone is courageous enough to say it. Paul gets an Honorable Mention for railing against government excess, even if as president he can’t constitutionally do most of what he promises. And even if most voters might rather he do his railing on a swivel chair in Texas while reciting: “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.”