Rick Santorum Almost Wins Iowa Caucus, But Actually Romney Does

So, the Iowa Caucus! Did you want to hear about anything else yesterday? I hope not! Because really all there was to think about in the whole wide world was who the Iowa caucus would indicate might possibly maybe be the Republican presidential nominee.

How does this work, exactly? That is actually a very good question! NPR has a helpful breakdown here if you’re not sure what’s going on. Basically, instead of each individual Republican party member showing up to a ballot box and choosing which candidate they would like to support via voting in a primary election, voters in Iowa meet in 1774 different local political meeting that start at a predetermined time and whose membership is determined by your residence. Each candidate has a “surrogate” give a speech in support of them in front of the entire caucus, and then the members of the caucus vote. The totals for that caucus, or precinct, are then added up and called in to the state party. If a visual explanation is more helpful, GOOD has a nice one here.

It’s a very unique voting process that prizes communal decisionmaking, but at the same time presents problems that traditional voting doesn’t — for instance, needing to find someone to cover at work or childcare for most of the day instead of just a half hour. The thing is that while the nation looks to Iowa as a possible predictor of who the Republican nomination will go to, we’re also aware as a nation of specific ways in which Iowa actually differs from the rest of America. Candidates have been campaigning specifically for Iowa votes for weeks now, with strategy and tactics designed to win over the population of that state in particular. After the caucus, they may shift gears and  do something (relatively) totally different for the rest of America.

As far as elections go, it’s actually pretty low stakes in real terms, although you wouldn’t know it from the amount of media coverage. Although it’s considered a “straw poll” and a possible predictor of who the GOP nomination will go to, it’s far from a foregone conclusion; for instance, in 2008 the Iowa winner was Mike Huckabee.

The Iowa caucus for the 2012 election was marked by being sort of baffling and also not allowing onlookers to pick a clear leader out of the pack of candidates, and in that way it was not unlike the entire race for nomination so far. Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney were tied for much of the night, with a very slim margin between them. For others in the race, there was less confusion about their level of success; Rick Perry announced that he’ll go back to Texas to “determine whether there is a path forward,” and while Michele Bachmann announced that she’ll stay in the race, but the fact of the matter is that she’s in the position of being asked whether she even wants to stay in the race. While Gingrich had done well in polls up until now, a series of attack ads  set him back in a serious way, and he trailed Ron Paul by almost ten percent, whereas the top three candidates had at most a 3-4% margin.

While most prediction models, including Nate Silver’s, didn’t expect Santorum to carry the day, he did better than most expected (except, paradoxically, maybe Nate Silver himself, sort of). Romney and Santorum remained in an almost literal neck-and-neck tie right up until the end of the tallying, with the margin often only as wide as a few individual votes. In the end, Santorum surprised a lot of people with a victory, even if it was by 0.1%. (Although Silver notes that this doesn’t seem to have increased his odds of winning the nomination by much.)

Santorum may or may not be any closer to the Republican presidential nomination, but we are definitely closer to a future in which Santorum is discussed on every major and minor media outlet, and has the “Iowa caucus winner” title attached to his name as long as he stays in the race. Which, by the way, still has plenty of time to go. Here’s to the next 7(ish) months.

UPDATE: In the cold light of day, reports say that Romney may actually have carried Iowa, by literally eight votes.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books and news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

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46 Comments

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    Does anybody else think that the redefinition of Santorum’s last name was kind of a juvenile thing to do? It was mildly entertaining when I first heard it, but it’s annoying how much it’s caught on. It just seems silly, and kind of pointless. Also, I’m sure there are other people in the country with the name Santorum, and that must kind of suck.
    Not a particularly deep though, I’m just wondering if there are other people who agree with me…

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          I don’t think we’re lowering ourselves to his level. That’s the point Savage is trying to make, I think; no amount of stupid sex jokes about Santorum can ever be as mean-spirited and petty as what Santorum said about gays.

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          Yes. Nor is it as awful as his avowed wish to deprive all U.S. LGBT people and their children of the right to a safe and protected family life, such as straight people are entitled to. And the tax, inheritance and social rights that go along with it. And the right to personal dignity.

          All this, simply because his religion says it is wrong, and regardless of whether said LGBT people have the same religion he does. It is disturbing to me that someone with his status and media access can apparently not distinguish between a religious rite and a legal contract.

          Nobody is threatening to annul Santorum’s marriage, put unreasonable death duties on his wife’s inheritance from him in the event of his death, or make it difficult for him to be at her hospital bedside while she dies.

          In the scale of things, a nasty off-colour joke is fairly small potatoes. And is nothing like as painful as the ‘teasing’ that many LGBT *children* have to endure, day in, day out, from their peers, thanks to the attitudes he (and those who share his views) promote.

          He is an adult who has chosen to be in the public eye and to state uncategorically that he supports (and will sign into law, if given the opportunity) seriously discriminatory policies. Policies which will strip LGBT people of their equal rights, simply because of who they are.

          Was it ‘fair’ to specifically target him over other people who support denying U.S. LGBT people equal rights? Perhaps not. Savage claims that the reason he was targeted rather than other politicians who also are against marriage equality, is that it is one thing to have a difference of opinion, but when you suggest that loving, same-sex sexual expression is morally equivalent to raping a child or to bestiality, that is crossing the line.

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      Maybe at the time it seemed somewhat juvenile, but Dan Savage might have done the LGBT community a serious favor.

      Look at the situation. Santorum is running for president. e just did much better in the caucus than anyone expected even three or four days ago. If this momentum continues, he could win the nomination. If he should win the presidency (and I’d sooner have Romney as president than Santorum), it would put him in a position to inflict some serious damage to the rights won by the gay community in recent years. The president isn’t all-powerful, but he (“he” because Bachmann is no longer in the race. I hope) can exert major influence over Congress and the Supreme Court. Imagine what Santorum would do with that influence. Not pretty.

      But hopefully people don’t know too much about Santorum. Hopefully they’ll take to the internet, and we all know what they’ll find. Will it instantly turn off potential voters? Probably not. But maybe it’ll spur them (especially those independents) to look at his relationship with the gay community. Hopefully, that would be enough to dissuade them. Maybe it’s a little far-fetched. But at this point, anything that keeps Santorum out of the highest office of the land is a good thing. Except, you know, murder, cancer, etc.

      tl;dr
      The frothy mixture that is sometimes a byproduct of anal sex may save us all. I can’t believe I put so much effort into this post.

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      I see where you’re coming from; you shouldn’t degrade people just because you disagree with them. Like, I’m not still calling members of the Tea Party “tea baggers”, even though it makes me giggle every time.

      But, in this case, I think Santorum really had it coming. There are some insults that shouldn’t stand and shouldn’t be forgotten, and without that website, most Americans wouldn’t know that he publicly equated homosexuality with bestiality.

      I might feel differently if Savage hadn’t publicly stated that he would take down the site if Santorum donated some amount of money ($1 million ?) to a pro-gay marriage group. So, Santorum might not like the terms, but he could have it removed.

      As for other people with the last name Santorum? I agree with Savage: they should be mad at Santorum for besmirching their surname by being such as astounding douche.

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      I know what you mean. On one hand, if the Republicans actually manage to oust Pres Obama, I’d rather see Romney take the office than Santorum. On the other hand, Santorum would have virtually no chance of winning the general election. A Romney/Obama race might run a little bit closer.

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    Hmm, just as an FYI, you don’t need to take most of the day off to participate in a caucus. They usually start in the evening. The event itself takes longer than voting, sure, but not usually more than an hour or two.

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      I was just going to say this. Maine has a caucus, I first participated in it during the ’88 campaign. It takes a few hours in the evening and is much more of a community based event than a primary vote.

      I don’t remember actually writing out a name on a ballot though, the caucusing was done and people went to literally stand with the person caucusing for their chosen candidate. The votes were then counted according to the people standing in the groups. I also recall that additional speeches were able to be made after the initial groupings and people were given the opportunity to change their support before a final count was taken.
      Then delegates for the candidate were chosen for the state convention; I ended up as an alternate for Paul Simon during the ’88 campaign.

      Of course it ended up as Dukakis/Bush that year. What a great choice to have for your first presidential election.

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    Huntsman received one vote. I find this hilarious. But I’m pretty psyched Romney led the caucus! (Even by eight votes.) I just find the entire caucus thing confusing and mildly entertaining. My best friend hails from the great state of Iowa, and she texted me a picture of the ballot…it was on a pink slip of paper and looked less official than my college’s class election ballots. But really, it was all very funny and very “Iowan” (in her words.)
    Romney! Romney Romney Romney!
    (Or Jimmy McMillan…because my rent is due and his voice is ringing in my head.)

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    Ultimately I think Santorum is far too rabid for the moderate majority of both parties–sickeningly homophobic, racist and shockingly elitist/AREYOUFUCKINGKIDDINGME?–he has no hope of actually winning the White House. My only real concern is that his vitriole will influence the larger conversation and/or will force Romney to pick a far more conservative VP running-mate than he might otherwise.

    Honestly, I love watching Newt Gingrich. He’s smart and savvy and destined to implode (as he does everytime), seriously the best political/comedic train wreck going…

    I view Republicans as typically falling into three categories:(in ascending order)
    1) JCAMF (just crazy ass mother fuckers)
    2) whackjobs
    3) wingnuts

    As always Rachel, nice wrap-up.

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      The most fun part of Gingrich’s implosion for me is watching it happen almost exactly as Sen. Coburn(OK) and MSNBC host Joe Scarborough said it would while the ‘Redstate’ crowd continues living in denial about it.

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    The real fun to be had is in the numbers.

    Mitt Romney won by 8 votes, but it was still 6 fewer votes than his 2nd place finish to Huckabee in 2008. That means that after spending millions of dollars and much of the last 4 years in Iowa, Romney managed to become less popular. Adding some proof the axiom that the more you get to know Mitt Romney the less you’ll like him.

    Santorum was strong in Iowa with its concentrated evangelical community, but it looks tough for him outside the Hawkeye state. Even if he took all of Bachmann’s and Perry’s votes AND every undecided vote, he still couldn’t win New Hampshire according to most polls. South Carolina is a good chance and Florida is a maybe. However, the February schedule would be a long, brutal month and I don’t see how he could pull it off waiting for the March 6th contests.

    About 122,000 people showed up for the Iowa caucus. Only around 3,000 more than 2008. Going from the dejecting post-Bush 2008 caucus to the Obama hating 2012 caucus should have seen a huge spike in participation. Not only was there no spike, but the number of shelf identified Republicans actually went down. All of the increase (and then some) was made up by Democrats and independents that mostly voted for Ron Paul. Those voters probably won’t vote for an (R)candidate this fall.

    Kind of tough to rummage through the data from yesterday and not think the winner of the Iowa Republican Party Caucus is President Obama.

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    I am heartbroken about Bachmann’s withdrawal. Less so about Perry (assuming he does drop out) because I think his entertainment value already peaked with the Strong video, but I felt like Bachmann still had all sorts of derangement left to offer.

    With Romney claiming victory in a conservative state where the win was far from guaranteed, I can’t see past him for the candidacy now. Which is a real shame. I would have liked to have seen a Santorum win to keep the circus lively for a bit longer.

    I think the best that sadistic overseas observers such as myself can hope for now is that Santorum’s ascendence opens him to the increased scrutiny he got to sidestep last year, and we get to see a bunch of crap flung at him. Someone with such a warped attitude towards sex must have something juicy waiting to burst.

    I just reread that and it sounds disgusting, sorry.

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      Yeah Bachmann is such a drama queen I was a little disappointed to see her go. But it’s not like the remaining candidates aren’t going to provide plenty of their own trainwrecks to amuse us.

      Well, except Romney, which is probably why he’s winning. And Huntsman.

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      Republicans vote for delegates to the Republican Party Convention, and then the delegates pick the Republican candidate, the Democrats do the same. Then every state has an election (all on the same day) to elect delegates to the electoral college and then the electoral college picks the president!

      Simple, right?

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        Why can’t EVERYONE just vote in ONE election to choose the president? Apart from the fact that changing an entire country’s election system takes a shit-ton of work, is there any logical reason why your current system is better?

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          To an extent. Yes, our system could definitely be pared down a bit but an old college prof once gave me a good example of why general elections can’t be free-for-alls.

          If you have 5 conservative leaning candidates and 5 liberal leaning candidates and then some random whack job runs on, say, a white-supremacy platform, he stands a very good chance of winning. The right/left votes will be so diluted between all the similar candidates that if all the white supremacists in the area get out and vote, their whack job will win.

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          That is true, although first-past-the-post isn’t necessarily the only alternative system the U.S. could have.

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          The parties vote internally to choose the candidate here in Oz, then we vote in our region for the party member we want to represent the electorate (at least that is the theory, though really people are voting for the candidate as a representative of the party leader). The party that wins the most seats wins government.

          Not that our system is anywhere close to perfect, but I WILL say that I like only having to deal with all-out campaigning for a relatively short period.

          Meanwhile, is this the same guy who has been going on about the ‘danger of birth control’? Because please, don’t let that man happen to the world.

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          Yeah, that’s what I meant; it’s not like there are only two choices, between the American system and the kind that Sarah describes. I remember talking with a poli-sci professor and he said that that argument came about in the post-Cold War days as a way of promoting American exceptionalism. But really, there are plenty of other systems around the world which result in stable democracies, including the multi-party systems that are the standard across western Europe. You can add protections in there to ensure that doesn’t happen.

          (Even with the example historians usually give of how a multi-party system goes awry – the last years of the Weimar Republic – it can’t all be explained as “the normal left and right parties were split so that’s why the Nazis took over.” Part of the Nazis’ success was that they were able to get other right-wing parties to rally around them, whereas the left-wing parties were mired in infighting which prevented them from uniting around their own candidate.)

          (And also, it’s not like there aren’t plenty of examples in American history where one side was split and that allowed the other guy to win despite not getting a majority of the popular vote – see: 1912 election, where Wilson won because the Republican vote was split between President Taft (party nominee) and Teddy Roosevelt’s third-party run.)

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        Just a note: in some states, you don’t have to be registered with a party to vote in their primary. So Democrats in such a state could, say, vote for the most repugnant and unelectable Republic caucus candidate so as to skew the nomination toward someone Obama could more easily defeat.

        Theoretically.

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          Yeah, I grew up in a state (Michigan) where this was possible, but now I live in a state (Maryland) where you have to be registered with a party to vote in its primary. Bummer supreme for me this election season.

          (See, if you live in Baltimore and care about local elections, it doesn’t make sense to be registered as anything but a Democrat.)

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          I’ve got a unique situation where the in the state in which I vote, the Democratic Party holds a caucus but the Republican Party holds an election. Since I don’t attend Washington State caucuses (what with the GIANT OCEAN in the way), I could technically send in a ballot for the Republican primary if I wanted to.

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