In Iowa, the Repub­li­can race gets in­ter­est­ing

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Pat Buchanan

Mitt Rom­ney won his an­tic­i­pated vic­tory in the Iowa Straw Poll, with 32 per­cent and 4,500 votes, but fell short of ex­pec­ta­tions. Ex-Gov. Mike Huck­abee of Arkansas, with 18 per­cent, ex­ceeded them, and is the man of the hour to the po­lit­i­cal press.

The re­sults from Ames, and South Carolina’s de­ci­sion to move its pri­mary to Jan. 19, are fraught with por­tent for the GOP and the party’s hopes of hold­ing the White House.

First, the turnout at Ames, with 14,000 vot­ing, was mod­est, in com­par­i­son to 1999, when Ge­orge Bush fin­ished first with 7,500 votes out of 23,000 cast.

The di­min­ished turnout sug­gests the GOP is not as hun­gry as it was when Bill Clin­ton was end­ing his sec­ond term, or as ex­cited as it was about its can­di­dates or prospects.

Sec­ond, the 18 per­cent show­ing by Mr. Huck­abee and the 15 per­cent by Sen. Sam Brown­back mean both will be in the race to Jan­uary. And, as both are strong so­cial con­ser­va­tives com­pet­ing for the pro-life and Chris­tian vote, both will be jostling each other — and both will be tear­ing down Mr. Rom­ney’s cre­den­tials as a so­cial con­ser­va­tive.

That Mr. Huck­abee came in a strong sec­ond and Mr. Brown­back a close third, how­ever, is not bad news for Mr. Rom­ney. It means both will be in the race un­til Jan­uary, and nei­ther can wholly unite pro-life and Chris­tian vot­ers against him. As they split the vote in Ames, they will likely split it in Jan­uary, to Mr. Rom­ney’s ben­e­fit.

There is other good news for Mr. Rom­ney in the re­turns from Ames. Be­cause his vic­tory was not over­whelm­ing, be­cause Mr. Huck­abee made a strong show­ing, the Iowa race — with its prospect of an up­set — be­comes far more in­ter­est­ing to the na­tional and world press.

Here is where the new cal­en­dar comes in.

As South Carolina has moved its pri­mary to Jan. 19, New Hamp­shire will move up to Jan. 12 or be- fore, and Iowa, which has said it will hold the cau­cuses in the new year, will thus have to hold them in the first week and per­haps the first few days of Jan­uary.

This means the na­tional and world press, a day af­ter Christ­mas, will be head­ing for Iowa and camp­ing out to cover the GOP race, as well as the Clin­tonObama-Ed­wards show­down that same day.

Es­pe­cially if the GOP race ap­pears close, the cov­er­age of the can­di­dates — par­tic­u­larly Rom­ney and Huck­abee — will be in­tense. Left out of that cov­er­age will be any GOP can­di­date not com­pet­ing in Iowa.

Rudy Gi­u­liani, John McCain and Fred Thompson each thus face a ma­jor dilemma and cru­cial de­ci­sion. Given their pa­thetic show­ings at the straw poll, where their names were on the bal­lot but they did not speak, if they con­test Iowa, they will have to spend time, en­ergy and money even to be com­pet­i­tive. And they would risk a third- or fourth­place fin­ish. But if they skip Iowa, they could face a me­dia black­out for the 10 days be­tween Christ­mas and the cau­cuses, while Mr. Rom­ney and the rest in Iowa are all over the na­tional news.

If all three wait in New Hamp­shire, all three could be in the dark un­til the news from Des Moines rolls over the coun­try and pro­pels the win­ner of the cau­cuses to the fore­front in New Hamp­shire.

More­over, South Carolina, by tight­en­ing the sched­ule and push­ing Iowa and New Hamp­shire closer to New Year’s Day, and crowd­ing them closer to­gether, in­creases the mo­men­tum value of an Iowa vic­tory.

Per­haps the best hope Messrs. McCain, Thompson and Gi­u­liani have of stop­ping Mr. Rom­ney is to have Mr. Huck­abee or Mr. Brown­back de­feat him in Iowa. And the surest way to do that would be for Mr. Brown­back or Mr. Huck­abee to drop out and stop split­ting the so­cial con­ser­va­tive vote.

But given the strong per­for­mance of both, that ap­pears un­likely.

Bot­tom line: The front-run­ners, Messrs. Thompson and Gi­u­liani, and McCain have left their des­tiny in other hands. If none of them is go­ing to con­test Iowa, and try to take Mr. Rom­ney down there, all have a vi­tal in­ter­est in help­ing Mr. Huck­abee or Mr. Brown­back tar­nish a Rom­ney vic­tory with a strong fin­ish, or de­feat him in Iowa, which might fin­ish him. For to­day it does not look like any of the three — Thompson, Gi­u­liani or McCain, who ran sev­enth, eighth and 10th — can do it them­selves.

For the front-run­ners, this would be the best of all pos­si­ble worlds. For even if Mr. Brown­back or Mr. Huck­abee emerged with the moral vic­tory in Iowa, nei­ther has the re­sources for a na­tional cam­paign, though the checks would pour in, in the event of an Iowa vic­tory.

All of which raises an in­ter­est­ing ques­tion.

Did Mr. Rom­ney hold down the score at Ames to make the race more ex­cit­ing, to give a vic­tory there in Jan­uary greater drama, per­haps to lure Mr. Gi­u­liani or Mr. Thompson or Mr. McCain or Newt Gin­grich back into the state, where in that coun­try of the Sioux, he could scalp them all?

The Repub­li­can race has sud­denly got­ten more in­ter­est­ing. The Iowa Straw Poll has a way of do­ing that.

Pat Buchanan is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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