The Republican Party of Iowa will not declare Rick Santorum the winner of the Iowa caucuses, even though he leads Mitt Romney by a few dozen votes according to the certified results, and led Romney unofficially in the eight precincts where results could not be certified. A narrow margin of victory with a clear winner would have been great for the Iowa GOP, as it would show multiple paths to winning the caucuses. A disputed result that produces no official winner is a public relations nightmare.
UPDATE: Iowa GOP Chair Matt Strawn now admits Santorum won the caucuses. The episode still makes the party look bad, for reasons I discuss below.
Jennifer Jacobs was the first to report the certified totals in her “exclusive” for today’s Des Moines Register.
Rick Santorum: 29,839
Mitt Romney: 29,805
Ron Paul: 26,036
Newt Gingrich: 16,163
Rick Perry: 12,557
Michele Bachmann: 6,046
Jon Huntsman: 739
Others: No preference, 147; Herman Cain, 45; Sarah Palin, 23; Buddy Roemer, 17; Fred Karger, 10; Gary Johnson, 8; Donald Trump, 5; Paul Ryan, 3; Condoleeza Rice, 2; Roy Moore, 2; Ben Lange, 2; Mike Huckabee, 2; Rudy Giuliani, 2; Tim Pawlenty, 2; Scott Walker, 1; John McCain, 1; Ralph Nader, 1; Pat Buchanan, 1; Robert D. Ray, 1; Jared Blankenship, 1.
THE EIGHT MISSING PRECINCTS
* Cerro Gordo County’s Mason City Ward 2, Precinct 3
* Emmet County’s Estherville Ward 2
* Franklin County’s Geneva-Reeve
* Lee County’s Fort Madison 4A
* Lee County’s Fort Madison 4B
* Lee County’s Franklin-Cedar-Marion
* Lee County’s Washington-Green Bay-Denmark
* Pocahontas County’s Center-South Roosevelt-North Lincoln
Jacobs took Iowa GOP Chair Matt Strawn’s words at face value:
Results from eight precincts are missing – any of which could hold an advantage for Mitt Romney – and will never be recovered and certified, Republican Party of Iowa officials told The Des Moines Register on Wednesday.
GOP officials discovered inaccuracies in 131 precincts, although not all the changes affected the two leaders. Changes in one precinct alone shifted the vote by 50 – a margin greater than the certified tally. […]
So who won the Iowa caucuses?
“I can’t speculate without documentation from the missing eight,” Strawn said. […]
As far as party leaders could tell, no Form Es ever existed for the eight missing precincts, [Iowa GOP Executive Director Chad] Olsen said. There’s no chance those eight will certified, he said.
“It’s a split decision,” Olsen said.
Jacobs apparently didn’t think to ask about the unofficial totals reported the night of January 3 from those eight precincts. According to Craig Robinson,
In the eight disputed precincts, Santorum received 81 votes to Romney’s 46.
If the results in those precincts are included, Santorum wins the caucuses by 69 votes. If those precincts are excluded, Santorum wins the caucuses by 34 votes. […]
As someone who oversaw the Iowa caucuses four years ago, I can tell you that there are always precincts that fail to turn in the proper documents. This is the case because the caucuses are conducted entirely by Republican volunteers. Sometimes you have two precincts that meet together and submit their votes in one lump sum. Other times you have precincts where nobody shows up.
It seems odd that Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn declared Romney the winner on caucuses night, but refuses to declare Santorum the winner after the certification process.
Yes, that certainly does seem odd, especially since Strawn expressed confidence that the certification process wouldn’t change the results when news broke about a counting error in Appanoose County.
I have to wonder how hard Strawn’s team tried to track down those missing results. O.Kay Henderson reported for Radio Iowa,
Reporters in Radio Iowa affiliate newsrooms have contacted officials in the four of the five counties which have missing precincts and the local party leaders said they had no idea those precincts were missing. All four county leaders indicated this morning’s call from a reporter was the first they’d heard about it. Four of the eight missing precincts are in Lee County, which is the Fort Madison area. One of the other missing precincts is in Mason City, the others are in Estherville, the Hampton area and rural Pocahontas County.
There are no recounts for Caucus results, as the “ballots” are destroyed after Caucus Night counting. Some counties had printed the names of candidates on pieces of paper which were distributed for voting, but most Caucus-goers wrote the name of their preferred candidate on a blank sheet of paper.
The results released this morning by Iowa GOP officials were emailed. The doors to the party headquarters in Des Moines are locked. Party chairman Matt Strawn is not responding to requests for an interview.
Amateur hour. How could Olsen not alert county chairs that the Iowa GOP was missing forms from certain precincts? A generous explanation would call this incompetence. Others may suspect that once party leaders saw Santorum pulling slightly ahead, they were happy to embrace a fig leaf allowing them to label the results inconclusive.
Nick Ryan, who was a paid consultant for the Santorum campaign in Iowa, expressed outrage today:
“They look like the keystone cops – my god,” Ryan wrote in an email to POLITICO. “Romney wins by 8 and nothing will change. Final count shows santorum wins by 34 and it’s a tie?”
I got a kick out of Steve Deace’s take on the news:
Now this is some rich irony…Nick Ryan and his partner Bruce Rastetter have worked for every establishment cause in Iowa I can think of the past few years, including Romney in 2008 and Branstad in 2010…this time he actually went with a conservative who believes things and gets a taste of the crap sandwich his establishment buddies have been cramming down our throats for years.
Welcome to the other side of the septic tank.
Deace is a Newt Gingrich backer, by the way.
David Kochel, who worked on Romney’s campaign, called the results a “virtual tie” and congratulated Santorum “on an excellent campaign in Iowa.”
Bob Vander Plaats told Radio Iowa, “It’s exciting to see that [Santorum] won the Iowa Caucuses. I hope the media now reports that he’s the winner versus Romney’s the winner because when the results were inconclusive, they kept reporting that Romney was the winner.”
Romney sent this written statement to the Des Moines Register:
“The results from Iowa caucus night revealed a virtual tie. I would like to thank the Republican Party of Iowa for their careful attention to the caucus process, and we once again recognize Rick Santorum for his strong performance in the state.
“The Iowa caucuses, with record turnout, were a great start to defeating President Obama in Iowa and elsewhere in the general election.”
Santorum’s campaign released a statement saying the Iowa results destroy Romney’s narrative of “inevitability”:
“Conservatives can now see and believe they don’t have to settle for Romney, the establishment’s moderate candidate – who authored the model for Obamacare that provided taxpayer funded abortions, who boasted that he was more socially liberal than Ted Kennedy, and who supported Wall Street bailouts.
“There is a consistent conservative alternative who has the proven record of reforming entitlements, defending the unborn, and standing up for American exceptionalism around the globe – and has proven that he is the one man in this race able to defeat Mitt Romney.
“That candidate is Rick Santorum.
“This latest defeat of Governor Romney in Iowa is just the beginning, and Rick Santorum is committed to continuing the fight as the clear, consistent conservative voice in this race.”
The clear losers here are Iowans who like going first in the presidential nominating process. Too many times, the results from the Iowa caucuses have been disputed. (Honest Democratic old-timers will admit that we don’t know whether Dick Gephardt really beat Paul Simon in 1988.) When precinct-level volunteers send in results, and political party leaders compile the vote or delegate totals without any recount mechanism, the process looks flawed. You can’t blame people for saying the first-in-the-nation contest should yield some reliable result.
John Deeth makes a lot of excuses for the Iowa GOP today. “I really believe that Strawn and Crew did the best job they could tracking this stuff down.” Then why did Radio Iowa reporters find county chairs who had no clue precincts in their counties were missing?
Deeth points out many reasons why it’s hard to run such a big statewide show with party volunteers. All the more reason to reform the Iowa caucuses or to let states with real primaries go first.
Incidentally, you can download a spreadsheet with results for 1,766 Republican precincts at the Iowa GOP website.