Christian Heinze

Candidates sprint, limp out of Iowa

The first state has finally voted, but political junkies, don’t worry – that just means there are forty-nine more for the candidates to visit and woo in the coming months.

Here’s where they’re likely to go from here.  

Rick Santorum

“Game on,” Santorum immediately told supporters when he finally addressed them after midnight.

{mosads}The former Pennsylvania senator was the night’s clear winner, even though he and Mitt Romney finished in a virtual tie. For Santorum, it was always about convincing everyone he was credible, and he went a significant way toward answering that Tuesday night.

Next, he’ll immediately head to New Hampshire, where he’ll spend most of his time before next Tuesday’s primary. It’s a huge gamble. He only places at 5% in the most recent New Hampshire survey, and it’s hard to see a clear fit between his social conservatism and the Granite State’s independence.

Indeed, some would argue that he should spend the next week campaigning in the evangelical-heavy South Carolina before its January 21 primary, but Santorum seems to think he belongs in the more inhospitable New Hampshire for now.

On Fox News, Karl Rove suggested that the odd decision had something to do with the intangible of momentum.

“I think he almost has to go to New Hampshire to keep it [momentum] up,” Rove said.

But Santorum should be warned — Mike Huckabee famously tried playing in New Hampshire and Michigan instead of immediately bolting to South Carolina after an Iowa win, and Huck came up empty in all three states.

Mitt Romney

One month ago, any kind of win would have been massive for him, but over the past week, both he and the media dramatically raised expectations for his performance.

Within that context, a virtual tie with a relative lightweight, Rick Santorum, is decidedly underwhelming.

On Fox News, Bill Kristol said Romney’s inevitability claim had taken “a big hit” with Tuesday’s close finish and that his electability argument might have been damaged, as well. 

New Hampshire is safe for Romney and will likely remain safe, and Buzz Feed reports that John McCain will endorse him in the state on Wednesday to help pad the lead – which a Suffolk University poll pegs at nearly 30%. 

And don’t expect Romney’s strategy across the board to change too much, either. On Tuesday, he was already buying up ad time in South Carolina and Florida – consistent with the assumption that a slog remains.

The toughest thing for Romney isn’t some new electoral map. It’s his persistent inability to meet expectations and close the deal. The remaining candidates know just how close Romney was to a solid win in Iowa and, probably, the nomination. 

But now they smell Mitt’s weakness afresh and his blood, too.

Newt Gingrich

“There will be a great debate in the Republican party before we are prepared to have a great debate with Barack Obama,” he proudly told supporters on election night. In other words, all systems go in Gingrich-land.

He was the second biggest winner of the night. Over the past few weeks, there’s been a spirited sub-primary between Rick Perry and Gingrich for fourth place – as odd as that sounds.

The reasoning was simple: Ron Paul didn’t have a high enough ceiling to win the nomination and Rick Santorum didn’t have the gravitas. That left Perry and Gingrich as the long-term alternatives to Romney.

Last night, Gingrich made the case that he can, once again, be a strong alternative to Romney. Gingrich absorbed more negative attacks in the state than anyone else and Perry spent more, but the former House Speaker bested him.

He will now march into New Hampshire, still holding an endorsement from the state’s most influential paper, the New Hampshire Union-Leader, and will continue ripping Romney with renewed vigor.

Expect him to also go after Ron Paul, whom he called “stunningly dangerous” in his caucus night speech. After all, Paul currently stands between Romney and Gingrich in Granite State polls.  

Ron Paul

He starts in second place in New Hampshire, and his independence is a natural fit there. Expect him to try to cut into Romney’s lead. The big question is whether he centers his attacks directly on Romney or continues to spray them on everyone else. 

So far, he’s hit Perry and, particularly, Gingrich much harder than Romney, but that might change if Mitt is the only thing between him and first place in New Hampshire.

Either way, he’ll be in the race for a long time. The money’s there and his message is there, even if his support has reached a ceiling.

Michele Bachmann

She failed to even crack double-digits in the caucuses and finished only ahead of Jon Huntsman, who boycotted the state. For a candidate who’d staked her entire candidacy on Iowa, it was worse than bad.

And sure enough, Bachmann hadn’t even taken the stage for her concession speech when campaign manager, Keith Nahigian, admitted to the Associated Press that he was unsure whether his candidate would continue. 

Ironically, the very state that represented the pinnacle of Bachmann’s victory in the August straw poll helped fell her a few short months later.

Right now, there aren’t many who think she can survive the week.

Rick Perry

He assumed the podium close to midnight, and immediately suggested that he might be close to dropping out.

“With the voters’ decision tonight in Iowa, I’ve decided to return to Texas, assess the results of tonight’s caucus, determine whether there is a path forward for myself in this race.”

That sounds dire, but it’s not an absolute drop-out. His campaign told ABC News early Wednesday that a final decision wouldn’t be made until at least Thursday.

When the dust finally settles on Iowa, the field is likely to be short two more competitors, but for Mitt Romney, that ironically means one tougher competition. 

Both Perry and Bachmann helped divide the grassroots conservative and tea party vote, and if they drop out, there will be more treats for Gingrich and Santorum as they try to become the ultimate anti-Romney.

Tags Barack Obama John McCain Michele Bachmann

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