They don’t call him Landslide Mitt for nothing.
Mitt Romney’s quest to swiftly lock down the Republican presidential nomination with a commanding finish in the Iowa caucuses was undercut on Tuesday night by the surging candidacy of Rick Santorum, who fought him to a draw on a shoestring budget by winning over conservatives who remain skeptical of Mr. Romney.
In the first Republican contest of the season, the two candidates were separated much of the night by only a sliver of votes, with Mr. Romney being declared the winner by eight ballots early Wednesday morning. But the outcome offered Mr. Santorum a chance to emerge as the alternative to Mr. Romney as the race moves to New Hampshire and South Carolina without Gov. Rick Perry, who announced that he was returning to Texas to assess his candidacy.
Here’s the final tally, with Mr. Romney getting 30,015 votes, or 24.6%; Mr. Santorum with 30,007, or 24.5%; and Ron Paul, a relatively distant third with 21.4%. Newt Gingrich got 13.3%, and Michele Bachmann, with 5.0%, less than half what Rick Perry got (10.3%), apparently got punk’d by God, whom she said promised her a miracle. (Perhaps the miracle is that she’s toast.)
The results tell me, the casual observer, that for the $4 million plus that Mitt Romney spent in Iowa, all he has to show for it are eight votes over Rick Santorum’s little underfunded campaign; proving that old Beatles song to be true: “Can’t Buy Me Love.” It also shows that eight votes in Iowa represents the huge gap in the GOP between the rich 1% establishment folks and the wild-eyed Tea Partiers with apocalyptic views of the world and an obsession with other peoples’ private lives.
It also means that since Mr. Romney has yet to break the 25% barrier in national polling, the nomination is not his yet and may not be for a while, no matter what happens next week in New Hampshire or later on in South Carolina or Florida. New Hampshire is loaded for Romney, but heading south will be different, and Newt Gingrich may rise again. It really doesn’t matter who rises, though; the lasting impression is still that no matter how hard he tries, the GOP would really rather have someone other than Mitt Romney, and the winner of that contest is Barack Obama.