It is one of the oddities of American politics that a small, unrepresentative state has taken upon itself the task of launching the quadrennial U.S. presidential campaign through one night of local caucuses, an essentially meaningless process except for the amount of attention the press and politicians pay to it.
And Tuesday night about 123,000 Iowans spoke, about 0.9 percent of registered American voters, who stand 137.3 million strong.
They made former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, respected but unloved by the GOP base, the party's front runner by eight votes over the surprising Rick Santorum, a former two-term senator from Pennsylvania soundly repudiated, by 18 points, in his 2006 re-election bid. Both had about 25 percent of the caucus votes.
Third, at 21 percent, was Texas Rep. Ron Paul, whose libertarian views are well out of the Republican mainstream but who seems to exist in his own political universe with a horde of loyal followers and dedicated donors.
Fourth, with a tepid 13 percent, was former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who, coming out of Iowa and en route to New Hampshire, attached himself to Santorum to preserve his fading political credibility and in hopes of hanging on until what he expects will be the friendlier climes of South Carolina.
The Iowa results pushed Rep. Michele Bachmann out of the race and left Texas Gov. Rick Perry with one foot out the door.
Santorum may find it difficult to replicate his Iowa success elsewhere, especially in the larger states. As of now, he doesn't have the money to go the distance, but success has a way of attracting donors. He will need donors to get through New Hampshire and South Carolina, and he'll need serious money to campaign in Florida. It's expensive because of the number of large cities and TV markets. TV buys — very expensive — are a must in a state where it's impossible to campaign by going by bus from diner to diner.
The Iowa campaign marked the emergence of Super PACs, anonymous political entities freed by the courts to collect unlimited money from the wealthy and corporations. The potentially massive thumb of Super PACs on the political scale suggests a problem that Congress should address down the road.