Now that real voters in Iowa have actually made real choices, two things are increasingly clear about the Republican race. Mitt Romney has the organization, money and ruthlessness to win the nomination. He also has alienated Hispanic voters and failed to generate enough electricity to light up even an energy-saving bulb.
Bottom line: Both sides have a plausible path to victory in November. And the outlook for President Obama is a bit brighter than it was six months ago.
Romney clearly learned something at Harvard Business School about the value of long-term planning. Using Obama’s campaign as a model, he’s figured out that Iowa and New Hampshire get far more attention than they deserve. By contesting primaries all over the country and building a strong base of delegates, a candidate can survive short-term setbacks and still win.
Romney understands this math. Recent Republican history is littered with wannabes – Mike Huckabee, Pat Buchanan, Pat Robertson – who flared briefly in the early states but quickly flamed out, suffocated by a lack of organization and money. Rick Santorum, despite his strong showing in Iowa, seems likely to join that list. Romney does not.
Team Romney understands the new landscape reshaped by recent Supreme Court decisions. Super PACs can now raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, as long as they don’t officially consult with the candidates they’re supporting. But they don’t have to.
Longtime Romney supporters, who know exactly what he’s thinking and planning, have set up Restore Our Future, a group that swamped Newt Gingrich under a deluge of negative ads. Newt even squawked that he was being “Romney-boated” – a reference to the vicious “swift boat” attacks on John Kerry in 2004. Obama can expect the same treatment.
For all the talk about tea party power, the Republicans still tend to pick the most familiar face, the next in line. The insurgents who did run – from Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain to Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich – turned out to be monumental disappointments. And Republicans are so desperate to beat Obama that many of them are willing to ignore Romney’s spotty conservative credentials. According to caucus entrance polls, half the Iowa voters who thought the most important quality in a candidate was being able to win in November picked Mitt. Unemployment remains Obama’s biggest weakness, and Romney ran strongly among caucus-goers who tab the economy as the top issue and prefer a president with business experience...