Guy W. Farmer: Iowa caucuses: Let's not overreact

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Despite former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum's surprisingly strong second-place (by eight votes) finish to ex-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in Tuesday's Iowa caucuses, Romney still is the odds-on favorite to win the Republican presidential nomination to face President Barack Obama in November.

Santorum is merely the latest beneficiary of the "anyone but Romney" strategy being pursued by the right wing of the Republican Party, including the Tea Party. Early on, the right-wingers backed former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who decided not to run. Next, they liked Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who won an Iowa straw poll last summer but dropped out of the race after finishing last on Tuesday.

Then came swashbuckling but tongue-tied Texas Gov. Rick Perry and businessman Herman Cain (of "9-9-9" fame), both of whom faltered badly in the debates. Cain suspended his campaign after several women accused him of sexual harassment, and Perry went home to Texas to "reassess" his campaign. Meanwhile, libertarian Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who finished third in Iowa, still is in the race.

After Cain and Perry faltered, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich surged before voters started examining his erratic record and icky personal life (he divorced a former wife while she was dying of cancer). And now Santorum, a family-values conservative and foreign-policy hawk, is the anti-Romney flavor of the week as the GOP campaign moves into New Hampshire, where the former governor of neighboring Massachusetts has money and momentum, while Santorum must start from scratch.

As for Iowa, it's an unrepresentative state and the caucuses are artificial, media-hyped events. And further, the caucus winners rarely earn their party's nomination for president. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckaby won the GOP caucuses there four years ago while the eventual nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, finished fourth. But Romney could overcome those odds by winning New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary on Tuesday.

My Republican friends have an important choice to make this time around. They can score ideological points by nominating someone outside the mainstream of American politics. Or they can nominate a candidate who can beat Obama. Personally - along with millions of my fellow independent voters who will decide the 2012 presidential election - I think Romney has the best chance of defeating Obama.

Kevin Dowd, the conservative brother of liberal New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, said it best.

"Romney is the only one who can beat Barack Obama," he wrote. "He was a governor and a businessman, and we will need that kind of expertise to pull us out of the president's famous ditch.

"A lot is at stake in the next election: the Supreme Court, federal regulations on business (and) the American way of life," he continued. "We should look at Europe (which the president so greatly admires) and ask if we want that to happen to us. In five years it will be too late."

And that's why I'll be looking for a moderate alternative to President Obama in November.

• Guy W. Farmer, a retired diplomat, is the Appeal's senior political columnist.


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