Even In Losing Iowa, Santorum Wins

Mitt Romney’s eight vote victory in Iowa sets up a two-man contest between a gritty, flawed, and badly out-gunned underdog and the Romney Death Star. Don’t bet against the Death Star.

The virtual tie between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucuses last night augurs bitter ideological and class warfare between two Republican candidates who define two poles of their party.

Santorum’s strong showing and the collapse of three other Republicans bidding to be the socially conservative alternative to Romney sets up a two-man contest. Romney will deploy dramatic advantages of resources and organization in trying to stop Santorum’s momentum, while Santorum hopes his emotional, partisan message will trump Romney’s technocratic appeal.

Top aides to both candidates made their cases to BuzzFeed – we present them below – but the bottom line is what Byron York described as a battle between the gritty underdog and the Death Star – a sentimental, but flawed and vulnerable Santorum against a juggernaut.

“That Santorum speech was the biggest moment of night, he will see a national polling and financial lift, and it’s because he shared his faith in an emotionally connecting, authentic, and sincere way,” said a Republican consultant working for a third candidate. “The Romney Deathstar better be operational and firing fast and that may not stop this guy.”

What Santorum’s campaign manager told us

Chris Carlson / AP

Santorum claimed victory hours before the final precinct results were released, on the grounds that rising to the top after polling at five percent three weeks ago was victory enough.

Michael Biundo, Santorum’s campaign manager, told BuzzFeed that his candidate isn’t going to change as a result of the caucus victory, but said Santorum will emphasize the contrast between him and Romney on issues relating to working class voters.

Santorum previewed that message, which echoes of George W. Bush’s compassionate conservatism, in a victory address in which he found a rich, appealing voice, saying Republicans have to do more than propose tax cuts and balanced budgets to help those who are less fortunate.

“What wins in America are bold ideas, sharp contrasts, and a plan that includes everyone,” he said, an implicit jab at Romney’s elite roots. “A plan that includes people from all across the economic spectrum. A plan that says we will work together to get America to work.”

Biundo predicted a strong finish for Santorum in New Hampshire, saying there is a “misconception” that the state doesn’t vote for conservatives.

“It’s one of those states where you guys might think it’s too the left of other places, but it’s not. They don’t want to hear straight talk, they want hear a conservative message,” said.

Biundo said that Santorum’s experience in Pennsylvania, where he lost his last election in a landslide, means that can weather the onslaught of negative ads.

“He’s tough going, he’s used to the attacks,” Biundo said. “Bring them on. As he said, ‘Game on.’”

What Romney adman Stu Stevens told us

Charlie Neibergall / AP

Romney’s aides, meanwhile, spun their slim victory as a dramatic triumph. Romney spent just 18 days in the state; and he did, in the end, win – if with six votes fewer than he received in 2008.

“I think we are better of today than we were yesterday,” his chief media consultant, Stuart Stevens, told reporters who cornered him on a windowsill on the third floor of the Hotel Fort Des Moines, upstairs from the ballroom where the campaign rallied.

And Stevens suggested that there could have been a more threatening alternative than Santorum.

“Politics is about picking your opponents,” he said.

But the Romney campaign was caught flatfooted as the night stretched on. Aides hustled into the crowded ballroom to remove teleprompters before his late-night speech, and Stevens conceded that he’d scrapped more ambitious prepared remarks for a wooden version of his stump speech that opened with patronizing congratulations for Santorum’s “hard work.”

Iowa was “a huge success for us, huge” Stevens said.

Then he said: “In two weeks, this will be like the Carthaginian wars.”

Check out more articles on BuzzFeed.com!

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