I am so absolutely delighted in the opening of Primary Season with the wacky Iowa Caucuses. Iowa is the heartland, which is more a concept than a reality, since Iowa is more cornfield than courthouse, whose demographics hardly reflect the United States. Yet Iowa occupies all the pre-game maneuvering of the party out of power, as candidate after candidate traipses through as many crossroads towns as he or she can in order to folksy it up in diners, hotels, and auditoriums. At the end of the election season, in November's general election, Iowa will give its victor a scant 6 electoral votes out of the necessary 270. To paraphrase Mark Twain, Iowa maintains its political importance in our nation due to a fiction of law and custom.
In 2008, Iowa voters enthused over Mike Huckabee, whose main charm seemed to be that he was a Christian, which in American politics is hardly a shocker, even if many holier than thou professing Christians like to believe they're an oppressed minority. So Huckabee left Iowa voters enthused that the 44th President of the United States could possibly be a Christian, unlike the 42 others before him (Grover Cleveland, as the only President to server two non-consecutive terms, gets counted twice). Republican primary voters -- primary voters of political parties being the standard-bearers of the party's ideology -- have been clamoring for a return to what they call basic American values since a bunch of race traitors in Washington signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Iowans are good people, but we are talking about Republican primary voters here, so we're naturally talking of people who have a natural distrust of reason and a basic belief that we are all one America and if your vision of America is different than theirs, then you are at best a fool and at worst a treasonous dog.
In 2012, Iowa's Republicans seem to have handed the winner's cup to both Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, with Ron Paul finishing a very close third. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened had Paul and Santorum not split the nutcase vote, or Michele Bachmann not claimed the better portion of the raging nutcase vote. Romney, the only candidate in the Republican field who resembles an earth creature, managed to use Iowa as a platform to look Presidential, rarely descending into the fray generated by his competitors. The big surprise is Santorum, a truly clueless oaf whose charisma kept him in the race. In fact, if you could combine Romney's relative moderation with Santorum's fervent yet personable approach, the Republicans would probably have a clear frontrunner and a viable challenger to Obama. Santorum, as co-winner of the Iowa Caucuses, gives his campaign a huge boost, but now he must leave homogenous Iowa behind for the meaner streets of a slightly less homogenous New Hampshire, where social conservatism doesn't play as strong a role among primary voters.
If one thing is clear after tonight's vote it's that no viable Republican candidate has connected with the voters, because Santorum is as unelectable as Paul and his strong showing -- along with Paul's -- might keep the campaign offices going in the other states, but will be nothing but a godsend to Barack Obama. Rick Santorum -- a candidate so dogmatic that Pennsylvania voters unceremoniously dumped him by 18 percentage points in favor of Bob Casey, Jr. (himself a true marvel for his ability to walk and talk without appearing to have a frontal lobe) -- may be a homophobe, an intolerant zealot, and a punchline to a Google search, but Iowa has propelled him to the front page and validated his campaign.
Iowa does love Santorum.