Santorum/Romney/Paul: So What Did Iowa Prove?

The 2012 Iowa Caucuses are now over and in a nail biting ending the two highest vote getters were separated by only eight votes. So, what did this caucus prove? It proved that organization matters, personal contact matters, and finally big money spent on TV might not matter as much.

The biggest news was that Rick Santorum came from the back of the pack — his numbers had been so bad that he almost got excluded from some of the many debates — almost taking first place in Iowa. He was, in fact, leading for most of the night until that final count showed him in second place losing only by eight votes. This was fantastic showing was due to one thing: Santorum’s hard work at retail politics.

Santorum spent much of his campaign treasury and much time in Iowa. He visited all 99 counties in the state and was for weeks on Iowa radio and TV morning noon and night. He pressed a lot of flesh and kissed a lot of babies. Santorum invested his campaign and himself in Iowa in a last ditch effort to keep his campaign alive. If he hadn’t it is likely that today he would be announcing the end of his campaign for the White House.

But instead of announcing the end of his campaign, today Santorum is the comeback kid, the newest anti-Romney that is finally getting first class attention. None of this would have happened if Santorum had not practiced that personalized style of politics that propelled him forward in Iowa.

Yet, as we look amazed at Santorum, we cannot ignore the actual winner, Mitt Romney. It wasn’t long ago that everyone was writing Iowa off for Mitt. Romney himself had stopped paying much attention to Iowa and was beginning to focus more on New Hampshire and South Carolina. But after the end of Herman Cain’s campaign, Team Romney began to find his numbers moving up in Iowa.

The reason this happened for Mitt is similar to Santorum’s movement in the polls. Mitt has a large and active organization in Iowa and that personal connection of one campaign operative to another was the local contact he needed to begin to move people his way. Ultimately, Romney himself also began to spend time in the Hawkeye state. All this personal attention from both the candidate and his growing boots-on-the-ground organization made all the difference.

While organization is important — with his third place finish, Ron Paul also proved a large organization can turn out votes — personal attention is not a magic bullet. After all, Michele Bachmann also put a lot of time into Iowa and she came up empty with a distant fifth place. Her showing was so bad that the day after the caucuses Bachmann suspended her campaign for the presidency.

The last thing this year’s Iowa caucus shows is that big money spent on TV does not guarantee a big win. Rick Perry, for instance, spent about six million dollars on TV ads in Iowa. He came in a fifth place. Romney spent just over four million for his first place win. On the other hand, Rick Santorum spent less than $200,000 and his surge placed him in second place by only eight votes.

Next stop, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

Final Vote Count
Mitt Romney – 30,015 votes, 24.6%
Rick Santorum – 30,007 votes, 24.5%
Ron Paul – 26,219 votes, 21.4%
Newt Gingrich – 16,251, 13.3%
Rick Perry – 12,604 votes, 10.3%
Michele Bachmann – 6,073 votes, 5%
Jon Huntsman – 754 votes, 0.6%
Herman Cain – 58 votes, 0%
Buddy Roemer – 31 votes, 0%
No Preference – 135 votes, 0.1%
Other – 117 votes, 0.1%

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