The Iowa caucuses were held last night, and despite the fact that Mitt Romney won by just eight votes, the big winner of the night was Rick Santorum. Santorum, a former United States Senator from Pennsylvania, came away from the first contest of the election season with the one thing his campaign desperately needed: a chance to introduce himself to the American public.
After languishing in the polls since unofficially getting into the race nine months ago, the Santorum campaign saw a surge in support in the polling to come out in the days before the Iowa caucus. While some point to Santorum’s style of campaigning as what brought him a relative victory in Iowa last night, it is hard not to see the Santorum campaign as the latest GOP candidate to benefit from being the candidate who is not Mitt Romney. Dave Weigel has a piece up on Slate detailing the different surges of each candidate’s campaign, from the Michele Bachmann surge of popularity back in July and August, to the mid-December rise of Ron Paul.
The question now, of course, is what happens moving forward? While nearly all the other Republican candidates enjoyed a surge in popularity away from the scrutiny of any actual vote-contesting, Senator Santorum now has shown he can compete (somewhat) in a real scenario. Donations to his campaign will pour in as we head to the New Hampshire primary next week, and he will almost certainly enjoy a bounce from his unexpectedly good showing in Iowa.
While Santorum was able to make 250 campaign stops in Iowa over the last year, the same cannot be said for his operation in New Hampshire. Mitt Romney made fewer than twenty days campaigning in the Hawkeye State, he has made a much larger investment in New Hampshire, crisscrossing the state and campaigning there non-stop. Mitt Romney brand of moderate conservatism may play better in the Granite State than Rick Santorum’s extreme social conservatism.
More so than almost any other candidate, Santorum’s socially conservative positions are far to the right of the main stream. As an example, he believes that birth control is “harmful to women and harmful to society.” According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health-focused non-profit group, more than 99% of women “aged 15-44 who have ever had intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method.” With these numbers in mind, Rick Santorum’s long-term viability as a candidate comes into question.