Now that the Iowa caucuses are over, what do we know about the 2012 presidential contest that we didn't know before voters in the Hawkeye State took part in the first major electoral event of the campaign?
The truth is we don’t know a whole lot more than we did before the caucuses. At best, the Iowa contest confirmed what we already suspected about Mitt Romney: Despite his frontrunner status, the former Massachusetts governor has yet to energize the Republican Party. He won Iowa by a mere eight votes and received just 24.6 percent of the total votes cast. These are not the types of numbers that build momentum.
Slight as the victory was, Romney can take some solace in the fact that he emerged as the winner after having trailed Newt Gingrich in most of the polls leading up to the caucuses. But Gingrich’s poor showing on Tuesday probably had more to do with the attack ads launched against him than with increased enthusiasm for Romney’s candidacy.
The caucuses also confirmed that the far right wing of the Republican Party will continue to play a significant role throughout the primary season. Rick Santorum has little chance of winning the GOP nomination, but the fact that a candidate with his conservative credentials, operating on a shoestring budget, managed to come within eight votes of winning Iowa illustrates the strength the far right has built with GOP voters. In Iowa, Santorum, Gingrich and other candidates who are more conservative than Romney received 73 percent of the vote among them. That can’t be comforting news for Romney with his meager 24.6 percent victory.
On the other side of the spectrum, although Democrats still have their work cut out for them if President Obama is to win re-election in November, the results from Iowa contained some encouraging signs. For starters, even though the caucuses were of little consequence for Obama, Democrats are boasting that 25,000 members of the party faithful turned out throughout Iowa Tuesday night to rally and plan for the upcoming campaign.