The GOP caucuses in Iowa yesterday were unbelievably close. Romney won with 30,015 votes (24.6%) and Rick Santorum came in second, a mere 8 vote back, with 30,007 (24.5%). Ron Paul came in third with 26,219 (21.4%) and Newt Gingrich was fourth with 16,251 (13.3%). Everything pretty much went according to expectations as far as who the top four were, although the exact positions and the closeness of the top two were a surprise - to me at least. I thought Santorum had enough momentum to overtake both Paul and Romney, even though he was still well behind the two in the polling averages at RCP in the last week. Boy was I close - off by 8, or rather 9, votes. I also thought Ron Paul would drop off further than he did and would place fourth behind Gingrich, who I thought would perform a few percentage points better than he did (I was thinking 15% to 16%).
What does the squeaker win mean? Does Romney run the table now? Or was Iowa an outlier or a protest vote about the choices presented to them? Does Bachmann bow out? Does Perry? Can Santorum sustain his momentum? Will Paul fall? Is Gingrich toast? In short: Less than you'd think. Quite possibly. Also quite possibly. Yes but without an endorsement yet. No. Maybe but probably not. Eventually - probably sooner than later. Not before we see the results of Florida.
It's all as clear as mud, but the first takeaway is that Romney still hasn't broken 25%. The rest of the field needs to consolidate around one Not Romney sooner than they otherwise would have. Sarah Palin was right - Bachmann needs to bow out and throw her support behind someone who can beat Romney. There is not enough room for Santorum, Gingrich and Perry to co-exist either unless they divide the states they will compete for and take a chance on a brokered convention. All three of them won't go for that, guaranteed. Ron Paul won't bow out until he can't win or influence the convention. While he may agree with the other candidates on many things, none of them are anyone I can see him throwing his full support behind,
Romney can win the majority of the remaining primaries with a divide and conquer approach unless some consolidation of the Not Romney factions occur. It's not critical that it happens immediately, but it needs to happen before too long or Romney runs away with it.