Friday, January 4, 2008

Mitt Romney Finishes Second In Iowa Caucuses, May Be In Trouble In The New Hampshire Primary As John McCain Surges

The Iowa caucuses are now in the record books, and Utah's adopted "favorite Presidential son" not only finished a somewhat distant second, but the latest batch of polls from New Hampshire show a distinct possibility of a second-place finish there behind John McCain in the upcoming January 8th New Hampshire primary.



But first, let's briefly review the Democrats performance in Iowa. Apparently, Hillary Clinton's support is eroding even faster than many people thought, as Barack Obama earned a significant victory tonight in the Iowa caucuses. Clinton ended up duking it out with Edwards for third place. Bill Richardson was much more of an also-ran than I suspected, and his race may be, for all intents and purposes, over with. There are rumors that he may be preparing to make a deal with Obama. A CNN Democratic entrance poll revealed that John Edwards was the favorite of more conservative Democrats, while Hillary Clinton did better amongst seniors and lower-income people. In addition, there was a gender gap amongst Hillary's voters, with 7% more women than men voting for her. Barack Obama was more favored by the rich, and earned an even split between men and women. Final results posted at Politico.com.

Here are the Democratic numbers, with 100% of the precincts reporting:

Barack Obama: 38%
John Edwards: 30%
Hillary Clinton: 29%
Bill Richardson: 2%
Joseph Biden: 1%

Now back to the Republicans. I figured you could throw a blanket over Romney, Huckabee, and McCain, with Romney ending up on top. But while I expected Mike Huckabee to do well, I didn't expect a victory of such magnitude. A CNN Republican entrance poll reveals why Huckabee finished so strongly. Huckabee did singularly well amongst religious voters, particularly evangelicals and "born-again" types. He corralled nearly one-half the women's vote, and also scored well amongst lower-income people. Mitt Romney's primary strength was amongst wealthier people, particularly those who make over $100,000 per year, and amongst those who are not religious. This only further burnishes his image as a "corporate" candidate. But it was the disproportionately strong evangelical presence at the caucuses that really propelled Huckabee to such a strong victory.

Here are the Republican numbers, with 87% of the precincts reporting:

Mike Huckabee: 34%
Mitt Romney: 25%
John McCain: 13%
Fred Thompson: 13%
Ron Paul: 10%
Rudy Giuliani: 4%

A story published by the San Jose Mercury-News records candidates' reactions. One immediate consequence - both Democrats Joseph Biden and Christopher Dodd are expected to formally exit the race at any time now.

However, a story in the Deseret Morning News addresses Romney's experiences and reaction in greater depth. Romney, trying to be upbeat at what was supposed to be his victory party, pledged to supporters that he would be back to Iowa — as the Republican nominee. "Just because you win silver in one event doesn't mean you're not going to win the gold in the final event," Romney said after congratulating Huckabee on his victory in Iowa. The former Massachusetts governor, a relative political unknown himself entering the campaign, spent considerable time and money to secure an Iowa victory and with it front-runner status.

Romney did note that he'd still beaten the "three household names" in the race, McCain, Giuliani and Thompson," and pointed out that he, Huckabee and the night's Democratic winner, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, were all seen as new faces. "Washington is broken and we're going to change that," Romney said. "Iowa said that tonight."

And Romney was accompanied by a pair of Utah lawmakers. Republican Senator Bob Bennett, who was campaigning with Romney in Iowa, agreed with Romney's assessment. "I don't see it as a crippling blow for Mitt in any way," he said, calling the vote a repudiation of Washington insiders that sends a message to Hillary Clinton and McCain.

Republican Representative Chris Cannon, who will face his toughest re-election fight yet this summer and who also joined Romney in last-minute campaigning in Iowa, felt second place was a good showing. "Iowa is a really hard place to read," Cannon said, especially with nearly half of the caucusgoers expected to have been evangelicals. But, the congressman said, he felt no antagonism in the audience of nearly 500 people he addressed at a caucus tonight on Romney's behalf in Newton, a town about 30 minutes east of Des Moines. "I think people voted for somebody they liked, not against someone for reasons like religious prejudice," Cannon said.

Carl Forti, national political director for the Romney campaign, said the candidate needed to win either Iowa or New Hampshire but not both to stay competitive through February 5th, so-called "Super-Duper Tuesday," when more than 20 states, including Utah, New York and California will vote, possibly settling the nomination.

Romney spent the final few weeks before Iowa cast the first votes of the 2008 presidential election engaged in an aggressive contest with Huckabee. Huckabee resisted the temptation to respond in kind, instead relying on his wit and humor. John McCain said civility is one of the lessons to take from Iowa's results.

"One, you can't buy an election in Iowa," McCain, whose own financial woes have affected his campaign. "And two, negative campaigns don't work. They don't work there, and they don't work here in New Hampshire." But McCain stopped short of saying what he thought Romney's stumble in Iowa might mean for McCain's own chances in next Tuesday's New Hampshire primary.

Romney's Mormonism has always been an issue. Even more so, perhaps, after Huckabee's surprising surge in the polls in recent weeks set up a showdown between the minister and Romney, whose beliefs are not considered Christian by some evangelicals. But the Romney camp did not think its strategy has been flawed.

"I think we did a good job of competing for support from evangelicals," Romney spokesman Kevin Madden told reporters. "But I think the results will show that there were some folks there that are evangelical voters that identify with Mike Huckabee, and he did very well with them."

But, Madden said, Romney does not need to change the way he addresses Mormonism. He called last month's speech on religion and faith by Romney in College Station, Texas, "a defining moment for him in how he addressed the issue. I think he did so with a certain degree of finality ... I think we've answered a lot of the questions. ... I would disagree with any assessment this was about denomination."

Earlier in the day, Tim Albrecht, Romney's Iowa press secretary, downplayed the issue. "We're not running into the anti-Mormon sentiment," he said. "We're not finding it to be a big issue. We've made thousands of voter contacts." So it appears that fears of an anti-Mormon backlash by voters, incessantly promoted by story-hungry media and publicity-huingry pundits, were exaggerated.

Additional coverage from the Utah perspective provided by a second Deseret News story, a Salt Lake Tribune story, and KSL Channel 5.

However, the possibility of a second letdown for Romney in New Hampshire on January 8th looms ominously. Two recent New Hampshire polls cause concern. The first, taken from December 27-30, shows McCain and Romney in a dead heat at 29% each. However, the second poll, taken on January 2nd, is of graver concern, showing McCain at 32% to Romney's 23%. This latter poll looks pessimistic, but the trend for McCain is clearly improving. Romney must put a stop to this in order to regain the initiative and prevail in New Hampshire. Check the Presidential Polls 2008 website for future poll results.

And what should Romney do? First, broaden his appeal. He's acting more like a CEO than a president; the country needs a president, not a CEO. He needs to improve his outreach to lower-income people. And second, he simply must do a better job explaining why he changed so many of his positions. He should present it as a matter of personal growth; he became more socially conservative as a result of having seen the ill effects of homosexuality and elective abortion. He still looks too opportunistic to too many people. However, Romney supporters can take some comfort in the fact that, in 1980, Ronald Reagan didn't win the Iowa caucuses, either. We all know what happened thereafter.

Meanwhile, waiting in the wings is Ron Paul, who progressed from 4% to 10% in Iowa in just two weeks, as his massive Internet bump is beginning to extend into the mainstream arena.

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