Wednesday, January 4, 2012

MANNING — The takeaway from the Iowa Caucuses site in Manning isn’t what was said.

It’s what wasn’t.

For Mitt Romney.

Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich had their vocal advocates in the Manning High School theater Tuesday night.

Templeton Mayor Ken Behrens gave a well-reasoned, authoritative speech for Gingrich, stressing his record of leading change and an understanding of the machinations of Congress.

University of Iowa student Scott Stribe spoke with passion about Paul — a favorite of the younger set who live in the decentralized world of social media, and see Big Brother lurking behind Uncle Sam.

But when Carroll County Republican Party Chairman Craig Williams asked for someone, anyone — Bueller? Bueller? — to speak for Mitt Romney?

Crickets.

Sure, Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, received 20 votes in a collection of southern Carroll County precincts. But of the 108 people voting, no one put a public face, a whisper, a murmur, to their support of Romney.

“I was rather shocked by that because I know several people who spoke very highly of him,” Williams said. “I expected that they would get up and speak on his behalf.”

One site does not a caucus make. Romney did carry the City of Carroll, and word came about 1:30 a.m. from Republican Party of Iowa Chairman Matt Strawn that Romney won the Iowa Caucuses by eight votes over Rick Santorum (had the Pennsylvanian only talked to one more table at the Carroll Pizza Ranch) in a historically close contest.

Still, the southern Carroll County caucusing shows many Republicans supporting Romney are making calculations about the fall — who can stand up against Obama. Having to make the argument of political expediency right after your conviction-driven friends and neighbors reveal genuine passion isn’t an attractive proposition.

Better to vote quietly and head home to watch the Sugar Bowl …

*****

The county-by-county breakdown of the Iowa Republican Caucuses shows a decided rural-urban trend. If candidates were allowed to raise cattle on the collection of sheer geography, raw territory, they won Tuesday. Santorum would be the Ben Cartwright of the Iowa Caucuses. He carried most the counties west of the Avenue Of The Saints — the four-lane route that runs from St. Paul, Minn., to St. Louis and slices through eastern Iowa on the way.

*****

Some Craig Williams analysis: He expected Ron Paul to do better than he did.

“It seems like there are a lot more of them (Paul supporters) when you’re in a place,” Williams said.

True enough.

For his part, Williams voted for former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich — a fact he made known only to the Daily Times Herald after the voting.

“I didn’t want to influence anyone else on it,” Williams said. “I didn’t think that was my position within the party.”

Williams said Gingrich’s leadership in Congress, his crafting of the Contract With America, showed strong vision and leadership.

“I think the man’s got a wealth of knowledge of a lot of different topics,” Williams said. “He definitely steps on himself from time to time and carries with him a little bit of baggage, but I think he can overcome that.”

*****

What a week for Stephanie Williams.

Stephanie, 22, Craig and Cindy Williams’ daughter, served as secretary for the Manning caucuses site.

Less than a week ago, Stephanie, a member of the Iowa State University band and a master’s student in accounting, was in New York City to support the Cyclones against Rutgers in the Pin Stripe Bowl.

From Yankee Stadium to the Manning school auditorium. What a country.

*****

What’s going on in Southern Iowa?

Texas Gov. Rick Perry — who may have dropped his 2012 presidential ambitions by the time you read this — didn’t do so well statewide, garnering just 10 percent of the vote.

But the Texan won Taylor County, on the border with Missouri, with 30 percent of the vote, and he captured Union County (23 percent) in southern Iowa as well.

One very likely reason for that: Perry had the support of U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Mo., who represents the northwest portion of the Show Me State and campaigned for Perry.

Graves was with Perry Monday afternoon at the Santa Maria Winery.

Folks that follow the St. Joseph, Mo., and Maryville, Mo., media in southern Iowa are no doubt familiar with Graves.

*****

It’s stunning to consider Santorum’s rise from relative obscurity to his 25 percent statewide support and headline-grabbing, head-turning finish.

A CNN/Time poll in Iowa conducted from Oct. 20 to 25 showed Santorum with only 2-percent support. A little more than a month ago, Insider Advantage had Santorum at 3 percent in Iowa.

Here is what Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper said of Santorum in February: “The former Pennsylvania Senator might be well-known on Capitol Hill, but his name more regularly produces blank stares in places like Iowa.”

*****

A real liberal conspiracy?

Santorum is the victim of one of the ugliest PR campaigns in recent American political history — something known as a “Google bomb.”

I talked with Santorum about it when he was at Swan Lake State Park over the summer.

In 2003, gay activist and columnist Dan Savage — who writes a popular advice column for the alternative weekly, The Stranger, in Seattle — started a contest in which he asked readers to provide definitions for “Santorum.” He then used loads of links to other websites to boost traffic to his project.

If you Google “Santorum,” your No. 1 choice, even after the former senator nearly won the Iowa Caucuses, is a site called “Spreading Santorum” that Savage launched with a vulgar fake definition attached to the candidate’s last name — one associated with a homosexual sex act.

Nine years later, the damage is done. Imagine typing in your name and reading what Santorum does. It’s not for the ladies lunch club at your local church, that’s for sure.

Of course, Santorum can turn this to advantage, noting that he’s a genuine target of a liberal homosexual plot. The proof is less than a second from your eyes on Google.