When Lyndon Johnson won a House race early in his career by 87 votes, it took him a long time to live down the nickname "Landslide Lyndon." Mitt Romney is going to have less of a problem coping with his 8 vote margin of victory over Rick Santorum in the Iowa caucus. If you compare the caucus with an NBA playoff series, Mitt Romney, the moderate in the Republican pack, has pulled off a victory on the conservatives' home-court.
Iowa went to Mike Huckabee last time around. If Romney can hold his own in conservative states and then move on to states that are less rockribbed Republican, he will win the nomination.
To carry the basketball parallel further, Romney's victory is also a product of the division in the conservative camp. You cannot win the game if your guards steal the ball from your own forwards and your center is blocking the shots from your own team.
Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann divided the conservative vote. To stop Romney, the conservatives have to unite around one candidate.
Former Senator Rick Santorum, who surged from nowhere to come within a whisker of beating Romney, hopes to capitalize on his momentum and attract funding now that he can be taken seriously. He will need a serious infusion of cash to cope with the deep pockets of the Romney campaign and with the fact that he will not be able in future primaries to conduct the intensive retail politics that powered his surge in Iowa.
Michele Bachmann claims she is staying in the race despite her disappointing finish, but she cannot attract funding. Newt Gingrich is placing his hopes on the South Carolina and Florida primaries where he believes that his southern identity will be an asset. Ron Paul has his group of loyalists who will stay with him to the finish.
The only candidate from the conservative wing who is currently reassessing his position is Texas Governor Rick Perry. Perry, who has never previously lost an election, finished a disappointing fifth in Iowa despite massive advertising. The irony for Perry is that he was severely damaged by his performance in the early debates, and by the time he got the hang of it and started to perform strongly and fluidly, it was too late. As late as yesterday Perry was telling everybody that this was a marathon and the true test would come not after the sprint of the first few states, but at the 20-mile mark. Perry now has to decide whether he is quitting after the 400 m hurdles.
Despite his gaffes, Perry was the candidate that the Romney camp feared the most, simply because his fundraising ability would enable him to compete with Romney's financial firepower. His departure would also leave Mitt Romney as the only Republican candidate with executive experience, as all the rest are legislators. With the issue of proven competence expected to play strongly against Obama, Romney commands an advantage.
In summation, conservative Republicans must practice e pluribus unum-- uniting around one out of many. If they do not unite behind one candidate and back him financially, Romney can sew up the race fairly soon.