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What the Iowa results mean for Romney, Santorum and Paul

Mitt Romney
The Iowa results to me suggest two implications insofar as they provide insight into a core element of the Republican base -- its evangelical Christians. First, the results are a reminder that although evangelicals are important to the party, they're not the majority of it -- there aren't enough of them to float the candidacies of Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry at the same time. So, with Santorum now the standard-bearer for those voters, there is no longer room for Perry or Bachmann, a fact that Bachmann seems to have grasped and that Perry eventually will as well.

Santorum's problem now is the classic one of any candidate so closely identified with the fringe of his or her party: how to hold that base and build from it. There are -- or, at least, there were -- plenty of free-market Republicans who object to government intervention in the economy,  and also its intervention in such areas as abortion. Santorum taps half of that impulse but offends the other. Newt Gingrich might have been an option for those economic conservatives, but he's done. For Santorum, then, the question going forward is whether he can reach more Republicans without alienating those he has.

Meanwhile, Mitt Romney proved that he can win among an electorate more conservative than he is, but he hardly ran the table. His whopping eight-vote margin evaporates if one considers the combined vote against him, which presumably will consolidate as Bachmann, Perry and, ultimately, Ron Paul drift away. Some of Paul's supporters may gravitate to Romney if only because they are repelled by the social conservatism of Santorum, but Bachmann and Perry voters seem more likely to go Santorum's way. Romney has a solid lead in New Hampshire -- home turf to the former Massachusetts governor -- but it gets tougher for him in South Carolina, particularly against a smaller field that will consolidate his opposition.

So Iowa has performed the function it traditionally plays: It's narrowed the field and edged it to the right. Santorum's mission is to capitalize on that; Romney's is to avoid being so tugged by it that in order to defeat Santorum, he makes himself unelectable against President Obama.

RELATED:

Iowa's mixed message

It's Rick Santorum's turn

Do the Iowa caucuses matter?

--Jim Newton

Photo: Mitt Romney speaks as his wife Ann and sons Josh (left), Matt, Craig and Tagg look on at the Hotel Fort Des Moines on Jan. 3, the night of the Iowa caucuses. Credit: Win McNamee / Getty Images

 

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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.



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