Rick Santorum's Iowa Win Deserves More Attention

The narrow race in Iowa raises questions about how the general election is run.

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Former Sen. Rick Santorum got cheated. Not on delegates—the number he captured in the Iowa caucuses when the counters put him in a very close second to former Gov. Mitt Romney is still what he'll have now, as the real winner of the contest. But Santorum, who achieved the extraordinary feat of surging from the back of the pack to beating the presumptive front-runner, barely got the attention he deserves for it.

Part of it is just pure dumb luck for Santorum. The day the Iowa Republican party announced the new count, lots of other things were happening in the campaign. Texas Gov. Rick Perry pulled out of the race. Marianne Gingrich, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's second wife, went on national television and revealed that her ex-husband had asked for an "open marriage" after telling her that he was involved with another woman (who is now his third wife). And a spirited GOP debate ahead of Saturday's pivotal South Carolina primary added more drama to the Republican primary story.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 GOP hopefuls.]

But Santorum deserves his due. He was the winner. The Romney campaign described Santorum's 34-vote victory as a "virtual tie," and it is. But it was even more of a virtual tie when Romney, initially declared the Iowa winner by eight votes, claimed victory in the contest.

Momentum isn't what it used to be, so Santorum probably won't be slowed down much merely by being denied official winner status in the first count. Internet fundraising allows candidates to raise cash very quickly, allowing campaigns to linger longer. And since the Iowa contest is not a winner-take-all race (none of the pre-Super Tuesday races is), the caucuses become just the first step in what can be a long process.

[Read Peter Fenn: Rick Santorum's Perfect Iowa Timing]

That, in itself, raises serious questions about how we run the general election. Awarding an entire state's delegates to a candidate—even if he or she only wins by a few votes—seems unfair and undemocratic. It also set up a situation where candidates largely ignore certain sates, knowing those venues are almost certainly going to vote for one party's candidate or the other. Not only are the votes of those non-swing states' residents under-appreciated, but the issues in those states tend not to be addressed. A general election campaign that treats every vote equally might not produce a different result very often (it's very rare that a candidate loses the electoral college but wins the popular vote, as former Vice President Al Gore did), but it would force candidates to pay attention to all of the states.

In the meantime, Santorum deserves congratulations and recognition.

  • See pictures of the GOP Candidates Heading to the Iowa Caucus
  • Read the U.S. News debate: Can Anything Stop Mitt Romney?
  • See the Top 5 GOP Candidate Gaffes of 2011