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Santorum Soared, Romney Rocked

2:46 AM, Jan 4, 2012 • By FRED BARNES
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In the Iowa caucuses, winning isn’t enough. Mitt Romney narrowly defeated Rick Santorum in the first contest in the Republican presidential race, yet his prospects of capturing the nomination were scarcely improved.

Santorum and Romney

He now faces an opponent, Santorum, who can credibly claim to be an honest-to-God conservative alternative to Romney in what may now be a two-person race. Should the press go along with this, as it’s no doubt inclined to, Romney will have a tougher battle on his hands than he must have expected pre-Iowa.

Both Ron Paul, who came in third, and Newt Gingrich, who was a distant fourth, said they will take their campaigns to New Hampshire, whose first-in-the-nation primary is next Tuesday, and South Carolina with its January 21 primary. But coming out of Iowa, Santorum is the big story and the chief threat to Romney.

A one-on-one race is exactly what Romney hoped to avoid at this stage, particularly a race against a more conservative candidate with momentum from having dramatically exceeded expectations in Iowa. With three or four candidates dividing the conservative vote, Romney had an advantage that’s now gone.

And it’s gone at the worst possible time, with the New Hampshire primary just six days away. Voters there, both Republicans and Democrats, have a history of favoring either long shots like Pat Buchanan or losers in Iowa such as Ronald Reagan. In 1980, George H.W. Bush won in Iowa and claimed he had “big mo” heading into New Hampshire. But Ronald Reagan routed Bush in the New Hampshire primary and glided to the nomination.

Santorum’s candidacy is everything Romney’s isn’t. The former Pennsylvania senator’s campaign is hand-to-mouth. Romney’s is well heeled. Santorum describes himself as “a full spectrum conservative” with a special appeal to social conservatives.  Romney is a pragmatist with moderate to conservative views who emphasizes his non-political background as a successful businessman.

Santorum’s campaign in Iowa was a throwback to Jimmy Carter’s in 1976. Carter spent months of retail campaigning in Iowa. Santorum did the same and attracted thousands of voters who’d been inclined to back Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann.  Romney spent far less time and eight times as much money on TV ads in Iowa than Santorum did.

How quickly Santorum can raise enough money to compete effectively against Romney in New Hampshire and South Carolina, then in Florida on January 31, is unclear. He’ll also need to build as much of an organization as he can in those states. Romney already has one.

Except for Santorum’s dramatic emergence, the results in Iowa weren’t terrible for Romney. Polls showed he would fall short of getting the 25 percent of the vote that he received in the Iowa caucuses in 2008. But he matched it. And he got one-third of voters who called themselves “somewhat conservative.”

Romney has, by all accounts, improved as a candidate since his presidential bid four years ago. But he has yet to demonstrate an ability to connect with voters at a personal level. At least he didn’t in Iowa.

It was that shortcoming that allowed John McCain to defeat him in 2008. McCain, like Santorum now, raised less money and had a smaller organization than Romney, but beat him in New Hampshire.

Another problem or two: A poll of Republicans entering caucus sites showed that Romney got only 13 percent of the under-30 vote and 14 percent of the votes of born-again or Evangelical Christians.

But, for what it’s worth, he won. 

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