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Republicans' Road Ahead, After Close Iowa Caucuses


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, the NFL is heading into playoff season and some people say this sport still needs to take a closer look at the very serious issue of head trauma. The ladies of The Beauty Shop will tackle that and other news of the week in just a few minutes but first the Iowa caucuses. They were the closest on record. A mere eight votes took former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney to victory over runner up Rick Santorum, the former Senator from Pennsylvania.

The GOP presidential candidates move on to New Hampshire and South Carolina next. So, we're going to take a look at what last night's results might mean for the rest of the race. Here to do that are two of our veteran political observers Cynthia Tucker is with us. She's a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and she's now a journalism professor at the University of Georgia. Welcome back to the program Cynthia.

CYNTHIA TUCKER: Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: Also with us Matthew Continetti. He's a contributing editor of The Weekly Standard. Matthew, welcome back to you as well.

MATTHEW CONTINETTI: Good to be here.

MARTIN: And Happy New Year to you both.


TUCKER: Thanks.

MARTIN: So, let's start with the results and let me just play a short clip of Mitt Romney's speech from last night. Let's take a listen.


MITT ROMNEY: Thank you Iowa for the great send-off you're giving to us and to the others in this campaign. Look, this is campaign night where America wins. We're going to change the White House and get America back on track.

MARTIN: Matthew, I'm going to start with you. What was the bigger surprise, that Mitt Romney pulled off such a close - that he pulled off a victory even a close one, or that Rick Santorum finished second or that it was as close as it was?

CONTINETTI: Well, Mitt Romney's not a gambling man but if I were him I'd play the number eight because that's a pretty lucky number for him. Eight votes amazing, and clearly the big surprise is Rick Santorum. In the course of what ten days he surges from the back of the pack to basically tie. And of course the media will interrupt this rightly I think as basically a Santorum victory. And so the question is can he consolidate the social conservative vote and become that mono e mono challenger to Mitt Romney.

MARTIN: And Cynthia, what's the news of the night for you?

TUCKER: Well, I think you have to give Mitt Romney his due here. Just two months back, Michel, I remember saying that nobody really expected Mitt Romney to win Iowa, got a second place finish would stand him in good stead, and he may have won ugly and, yes, Matthew's right; it's a virtual tie but he did well in Iowa and has a boost where he didn't really need it going into New Hampshire. I have to say though that Mitt Romney got some help from his rivals.

I think that when the books are written on this campaign, reporters will talk a lot about the fact that Romney's rivals mostly concentrated their fire on each other and not on him. He didn't have to deal with much incoming from rival camps so, he got to run a race with very little fire directed toward him while his rivals concentrated on each other and I think that allowed him to go into the front of the pack.

MARTIN: Well, what about Rick Santorum? The same is really true of Rick Santorum isn't it? I mean, Matthew he did not have much fire directed his way because his surge came late? So, he didn't get the barrage of negative ads that was directed to Newt Gingrich, for example. And let me just play a short clip from Rick Santorum so people can hear his voice. He was a in his speech last night he talked about his grandfather who was an immigrant from Italy who came to this country to find work as a coal miner. Let's listen.


RICK SANTORUM: He ended up continued to work in those mines until he was 72 years old. I'll never forget the first time I saw someone who had died. It was my grandfather, and I knelt next to his coffin and all I could do was look at his hands. And all I could think was those hands dug freedom for me.

MARTIN: So and so it had to have been a good night for him but Matthew, you have to ask can he sustain this momentum? I mean, first of all he couldn't defend his own senate seat; defeated for re election in Pennsylvania which is an important and big state, a swing state, you know, lots of votes. Does he have a message? And he put a lot of effort into Iowa. I mean, people say that he was seen in every doughnut shop well, you know, across the state.

So, clearly he did his homework in Iowa but can he sustain this through the rest of the race? What's your take?

CONTINETTI: Well, I mean, certainly and by the textbook Mitt Romney is well positioned for the long haul. Santorum doesn't have the organization. He doesn't have the money. On the other hand he does have two things that I think are important. One, is he connects to very conservative voters, of which there's a significant number in the Republican Party. He's a social conservative, a committed social conservative, and the social conservatives have always had doubts about Mitt Romney. And then secondly, you notice in that clip that we just played his working class roots.

And the Republican Party is increasingly the party of the white working class. These are white voters without a college degree, and they have not responded to Romney at all. They didn't respond to him in 2008 and they're not responding to him now, and it's the reason why they haven't gone for somebody else is that they've been split. Now, as we see other candidates remove themselves, the question to me is do they rally around someone like Rick Santorum who is primed I think to gain their support.

MARTIN: Cynthia, what do you think?

TUCKER: I think that Rick Santorum is in a very good place to win the support of those voters that Matthew just referred to especially those who had given their support to others who will be dropping out after disappointing results in Iowa. But I also think money still matters and Mitt Romney is a candidate with a whole heap of money. He's been running after all since 2008. He really never stopped running. He's got money for organization. He's got money for advertising and that will make a huge difference.

Rick Santorum, I don't think will be able to catch up with the huge leap in front of that Mitt Romney has been able to build up over several years of running a campaign.

MARTIN: We're talking about last nights Iowa caucus result and we're looking ahead to New Hampshire and South Carolina with Cynthia Tucker, journalism professor at the University of Georgia, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. That's who was speaking just now. Also with us, Matthew Continetti, a contributing editor for The Weekly Standard. What about that Matthew?

CONTINETTI: Well, I, essentially...

MARTIN: Cynthia says he can't catch up?

CONTINETTI: ...maybe he won't. But I will say if money is the most important thing in politics then the winner of the Iowa caucus should have been Rick Perry who's spent millions and millions and millions of dollars in Iowa and came out with bupkis, and so, money isn't everything. At the end of the day, you're going to have to have some type of gut-connection with voters and what is just so striking to me is that Mitt Romney actually lost ground in the last four years in Iowa.

He's received fewer votes this time despite being the establishment front- runner.

MARTIN: But he's heading - wouldn't you - would you argue he's heading to friendlier territory with New Hampshire? I mean, you know, a neighboring state to Massachusetts where he was governor; not the most beloved figure in Massachusetts. So, many people, you know, his successor, Deval Patrick, a Democrat, referred to him as a recreational governor who said he only landed there long enough to sort of set himself up to run for president. But be that as it may, he won Massachusetts last time.

New Hampshire, you know, a neighbor, what do you think?

CONTINETTI: Romney's certainly been - has a huge lead according to the polls in New Hampshire but politics is a dynamic process and I fully expect just as we saw in Iowa that Romney's lead is going to start collapsing in New Hampshire and other people are going to move up to do to perhaps not beat him but at least be competitive. I mean, the result yesterday is just amazingly muddied, and the one person we haven't talked about so far, Ron Paul, I think is primed to do very well in New Hampshire because his support that we saw yesterday is from young people, independents and Democrats who crossed over to vote in a Republican contest. And what happens in New Hampshire? Year and year again those independents and Democrats who crossed over to vote in a Republican contest.

And what happens in New Hampshire year and year again? Those Independents and Democrats come out and decide who wins the New Hampshire primary.

MARTIN: Cynthia, what do you think? I mean, so - well, you heard what Matthew had to say and, also, you know, South Carolina - seems to me, that would be friendly territory for Rick Santorum, as well. What do you think? What's next?

TUCKER: I think South Carolina will be very friendly territory for Rick Santorum. I think he might well win South Carolina. I think that Matthew's right, that Ron Paul is likely to be the one who gives Romney the bigger challenge in New Hampshire.

But here's what I think Mitt Romney's biggest problem is going forward. I think he is still in the better position for the long haul. This still looks like a long primary season ahead. He's in a good position in every state. He has organization, but Rick Santorum is going, obviously, challenging him among social conservatives.

Mitt Romney is going to be very tempted to move even further to the right to try to win the affection of more of those social conservatives and that will show him, I think, to be more inconsistent in his political philosophy because remember he was a moderate in Massachusetts. He was a pro-choice politician just a few years ago.

So the challenge for Mitt Romney is how to fend off Rick Santorum without picking up extremely conservative positions, which make him seem inauthentic and which will not stand him in good stead in a general election.

MARTIN: (Unintelligible) Matthew, in just the minute and a half we have left, I just want to get your take on the rest of the field that did not do well at all. I mean, you talked about Ron Paul already. So he came in third and, depending on your point of view, particularly since he took the last weekend of campaigning off and went home and chilled out, you could make an argument that he did OK.

Then there was still Newt Gingrich to think about. There's still Texas Governor Perry. There was Michele Bachmann, the congressman from Minnesota. What's your take? Does any of this group survive to the next round or is it enough of them? Bye-bye.

CONTINETTI: Well, I believe Gingrich definitely survives for as long as he can because he has now a mission in life and that is to damage Mitt Romney and you can almost see the waves of anger coming off Newt Gingrich whenever he talks about Mitt Romney because he feels like he was somehow wronged by the negative attack ads in Iowa.

Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann - I think the future of their campaigns is very dim. These are guys - candidates who needed to perform well in Iowa in order to bounce into the South Carolina primary. They both performed horribly and, really, what you saw is this divergence in the field. You have three top finishers all within a few points of each other and then the also-rans.

MARTIN: All right. More to come. More to come. A good year for us. It's always a good year for us, isn't it? A political (unintelligible) talk show host.

TUCKER: Absolutely. It certainly is.

MARTIN: We always have something to talk about. Matthew Continetti is a contributing editor of The Weekly Standard. He was kind enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C. studios. Cynthia Tucker is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and journalism professor at the University of Georgia. She joined us from Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta.

Thank you both so much for speaking with us.

CONTINETTI: Thank you.

TUCKER: Thanks for having me.


MARTIN: Coming up, only two Republican candidates made the ballot for the Virginia primary. How will that affect the race for president?

And why are some leading African-American divas lending their award-winning voices to weight loss commercials?


JANET JACKSON: I have a message for anyone who has ever struggled with weight loss. Make Nutrisystem Success your plan.

MARTIN: Is this a good way to get more women of color serious about weight loss or just another way to make black women feel bad about themselves? We'll go to the Beauty Shop for answers. That's coming up on TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.