I watched with interest both “victory” speeches last night after the Iowa Caucuses — the first by Rick Santorum and the second by Mitt Romney. As I write this a total of five votes separate the two, with Santorum in the lead after 98% of the vote counted. Conventional wisdom in primary elections holds that even if Romney eeks out a small numerical victory in the end, Santorum’s unexpected strong showing makes this a victory irregardless of the vote tally. Coming out of Iowa, the GOP contest looks increasingly like a two-person race.
And if the victory speeches are any indication, I think Romney may be in for a tough fight. Santorum spoke without notes, from the heart, invoking his faith, his love of family and country, in a very personal way. His goal was to introduce himself to arguably the largest TV audience he has ever spoken to — something he did exceedingly well. He talked about his ideas for the country, his desire to return America back to “first principles” — to the notion that the Constitution creates government derived from the God-given consent of the people, and that the state works for us and not the other way around. It was compelling, and will clearly appeal to the Libertarian-leaning conservatives who are searching for a Romney alternative, and who know that Ron Paul can’t win. They very well may have found one tonight.
Mitt Romney, on the other hand, gave a speech that was a standard stump speech: focused on Barack Obama, full of facts and figures, but missing the visceral emotion that connects with people. He was solid, steady, smart. Boring. Mitt Romney was being Mitt Romney tonight, and it is easy to see why he can’t get more than 25% of the vote in Iowa or go much beyond that number in national polling. Romney is a technocrat. He talks like a management consultant. This is good to a point — we certainly need a good manager in the White House. But we desperately need a strong, compelling conservative vision for our country and our future. I didn’t see that tonight from Romney. He may have it in him, but I’m still looking for it.
So now its on to New Hampshire and South Carolina. As Andrew Boucher has written on these pages, Santorum seems to have a strong ground game in South Carolina, and by the time we get to Florida this could be a real horse race. And if tonight’s speeches are any indication, it may end up being a photo finish.
Ken Davenport is a Partner at San Diego Social Venture Partners and has taught politics at Colorado State University. He has written for The Weekly Standard and San Diego Union Tribune.