The winner of the 2012 caucuses, we now know, was Rick Santorum. The loser, it’s becoming clear, was Iowa. The certified results released this week from the nation’s first presidential nominating contest revealed that Mitt Romney’s declared eight-vote victory on caucus night was actually a 34-vote defeat. They revealed that eight voting precincts went missing in action, and their votes will never be counted. And they were accompanied by evolving statements from the Republican Party of Iowa, which, having initially called the race for Romney, first declared this week’s result a “split decision” and only later acknowledged victory for Santorum.
Such a muddled result and response threatens the already-contested legitimacy of Iowa’s first-in-the-nation status and underscores the need for reforms to professionalize the voting process, political observers and party officials said. “It’s bad. It really hurts the caucuses,” longtime Iowa observer David Yepsen said. “The caucuses have lots of critics, and for this to happen really jeopardizes the future of the event.”
Criticism of Iowa’s place on the nominating calendar has long come from other states envious of the attention it receives, and has often focused on the demographic realities that make it unrepresentative of the country as a whole. But this year’s fumbled result opens a new line of attack: that Iowa’s process is amateurish, and that its results cannot be trusted.