Byron York is reporting that the final count may show that Mitt Romney actually lost the Iowa caucuses to Rick Santorum, though that result is far from certain. The two are effectively tied. Would Romney falling behind Santorum in that vote count, however slightly, change the entire race?
Certainly it would contribute to the sense many conservatives have that the fix is in. The problem is that any such revelation would come as Romney is starting to pull away among Republican voters, both nationally and in many primary states. In order to really change things, the GOP primary electorate would have to decide Santorum was robbed and flock to him in large enough numbers to finally resolve the Gingrich-Santorum deadlock.
Remember that many considered Santorum the effective winner of Iowa going into the New Hampshire primary. The talking point that Romney’s early state strength made him inevitable didn’t really start to take off until after New Hampshire. Santorum wasn’t able to use his Iowa showing to pull away from Newt Gingrich or close the gap with Romney. Moreover, the voters most likely to feel that Romney is being foisted on them by the Republican establishment are already in the Gingrich, Santorum, or Rick Perry camps.
Though if it turns out that he hasn’t run the table in the early states, Romney might be wise to reconsider skipping some debates.