Even before the Rick Santorum surge, it was becoming apparent that he was going to perform well in the rural parts of the state. What was unclear was whether or not Santorum was going to be competitive in the more urban parts of the state, or how I like to describe it, the yellow spots on the map.
Santorum’s surge is important because it has helped him become more competitive in those areas. While Huckabee’s surge was more prolonged than Santorum’s surge, they both are having the same effect. Like Huckabee, Santorum needed the media attention that comes along with a rise in the polls to help him become more competitive in metropolitan areas. The earned media that Santorum has received in the last 10 days is priceless, and it helps him in the areas that are sometimes the most difficult to organize, Iowa’s large cities.
Iowa Republicans want a large turnout tonight. While they would be satisfied with a similar turnout to 2008 when 119,000 people caucused, which set a record for Republicans, they still want more. With all of the media coverage and the fact that basically every one of the six candidates competing in Iowa has enjoyed their time in the sun, I think a large turnout is likely. Who will that help? Romney and Santorum. Who will it hurt? Ron Paul.
The media is always obsessed with finding a bellwether precinct or county. After attending events in Muscatine and seeing the size of crowds that all of the candidates have attracted there, Muscatine County may give us a glimpse of how the entire state will perform.
The Four Counties In Northwest Iowa
The most conservative part of Iowa is located in northwest Iowa, but more specifically, it’s the four counties in the northwest corner of the state. Republican voter registration sometimes pushes 70 percent in those counties, and the voters there have a tendency to turn out in large numbers. Even though these are not large population counties, the big turnout makes them perform like much larger counties. If Santorum is going to win tonight, he needs to own this area of the state.
Ron Paul’s Strength
Numerous stories have been written about the strength and sophistication of Ron Paul’s Iowa campaign. There is no doubt that Paul’s support is deep, but tonight we will get to see how wide his support is. We know that Paul will likely do well in areas with large college campuses, but for Paul to do well overall, he needs to perform well in large, urban counties.
Most of the population in Iowa is located in the eastern part of the state, however most candidates have spent most of their time working the more conservative areas of the state in western Iowa. While candidates have campaigned in places like Davenport, Cedar Rapids, and Dubuque, they have not made those areas a focal point in their strategy. I still can’t figure out why most campaigns didn’t go and try to build something in those counties while Mitt Romney was basically ignoring the state. This is an area where he did well in 2008.
2008 Romney Counties
Romney won 23 counties in 2008, many of them in eastern Iowa. If Romney wants to win tonight, he needs to carry all of those counties and actually win in places like Polk County. If Romney is unable to carry Clinton, Dubuque, Scott, Linn, Pottawattamie, and Woodbury counties, he’s not going to win tonight.
Early Signs of Life From Newt
Newt Gingrich is the wildcard tonight. Gingrich has been coming to Iowa for years, and as such, has built a loyal following. If Gingrich is competitive when the first results are reported, he may out perform the polls that show him with high unfavorable ratings from Iowa Republicans and sinking poll numbers. It’s essential for Gingrich to beat Rick Perry if he wants to continue in the Republican nominating process as a serious candidate, but Gingrich could be a big story if he can find a way to finish in the top three.
How Colorful is the Results Map?
The results map will color each of Iowa’s 99 counties with the color that is associated with the candidate who wins the most votes in a county. In most caucus contests the map is dominated by one or two colors. For instance, in 2008, Mike Huckabee painted two thirds of the map red, Romney won about 20 counties, which were blue, and Ron Paul won one county, which was brown.
Tonight’s map might have four, five, or six colors on it. The more colorful the map, the more competitive the state was. It will be fascinating to see the areas of the state where each candidate is strong. For future elections, Iowan Republicans may be able to use these results to better target voters in these areas, especial when it comes to candidate recruitment.
Smooth Election Results
Not many things make me nervous, but I was on the verge of being physically ill on caucus night 2008. Many talk about how this candidate or that candidate not participating in Iowa will “kill the caucuses.” That’s nonsense. The two things that pose real threats to the caucuses is an error in reporting the results or a lawsuit by one of the campaigns that demands a recount.
The caucuses are overseen by the Republican Party of Iowa and conducted entirely by volunteers. Small hiccups happen, but a major disruption while the bright lights of the entire world are focused on Iowa would be devastating. The problem with a recount isn’t that it’s not possible, the problem is that getting the information from 1700 plus precincts back to the Republican Party of Iowa takes a lot of time and manpower.
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