Tuesday night’s Iowa caucuses, with their historically close results, were not the first razor-thin margin in modern Iowa presidential politics. In 2000, the general election in Iowa was decided by three-tenths of a percentage point. In 2004, Iowa was decided by seven-tenths of a percentage point.
While Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul were all successful, the best news out of Iowa is that multiple indicators now point to the Hawkeye State being very competitive again in 2012 — despite long-held conventional wisdom that it is a state Obama’s re-election campaign will waltz away with.
Just what are those indicators? For starters, President Obama’s approval rating has been consistently in the low-to-mid forties in Iowa. No president has won re-election with an approval rating below 49, and many pollsters believe it must be above 50.
Next, there are more Republicans and fewer Democrats in Iowa than in 2008. The Republican Party of Iowa has logged 33 consecutive months of registration gains. Since Obama’s election, one in every ten registered Democrats in the state left his party.
And Iowa Republicans are hugely motivated to turn out. Tuesday’s caucuses saw a record-setting turnout of 122,225. It is notable that turnout happened in the absence of consensus candidates and large, well-staffed, and well-funded turnout operations like those seen in 1996, 2000, or 2008. Also noteworthy is that The Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll showed some 40% of likely caucus goers still had some softness in their support of any individual Republican.
Some 38% of the caucus electorate reported never having been to a caucus before, and youth participation was up dramatically for Republicans. Youth turnout was the single largest contributor to Obama’s winning coalition in 2008.
In other words, Iowans are so desperate to replace Barack Obama that they turned themselves out in record numbers to cast a vote for “Anybody but Barack.”
Obama’s Chicago spin-machine has attempted to portray Tuesday’s result in Iowa as a win for them. I hope they are foolish enough to actually believe that.
The intensity we saw for “Anybody but Barack” will in fact coalesce around our eventual nominee. Consider the pathway of Tuesday’s winner Mitt Romney. Romney earned just 14% of the evangelical vote in Iowa according to Fox News’s analysis. But a poll of Iowa evangelicals last week indicated that 91% of those evangelical voters would turn out for Romney in a general election matchup against Obama.
CNN’s Erin Burnett reported similar findings Tuesday night for Ron Paul and Rick Santorum among business leaders, even though they went overwhelmingly to Romney as their first choice.
This caucus saw at least two other interesting revelations: negative ads work (even in Iowa), and organization does still matter.
Newt Gingrich’s three-week-long, one-point-per-day implosion from national front-runner to angry also-ran is proof positive of this fact. Many pundits and outside consultants have long said you couldn’t get away with running negative ads in Iowa — especially during the holidays. They have always been wrong on this point, but I suspect they may have just caught on.