In the Iowa caucuses last night, Mitt Romney won by a mere 8 votes over Rick Santorum, whose come-from-behind showing will enter American political lore. The outcome will greatly help Santorum, but keep three asterisks in mind.
1. Turnout in the Iowa caucuses was 122,255 voters. Though higher than GOP turnout in 2008, that figure amounted to about only one-fifth of registered Republicans in the state. Here's another way to put it: statewide Iowa turnout was smaller than the number of Republicans (123,625) who voted in the 2008 Republican primary in Santa Clara County, California.
2. Iowa did not select a single national convention delegate last night. The caucus results were merely a poll. In separate votes, attendees selected delegates to county conventions, who in turn will participate in a process that will eventually result in the selection of national convention delegates. Throughout this process, the caucus results bind no one to vote a certain way.
3. The Iowa results do not necessarily predict the eventual nominee. In 1980, Ronald Reagan lost Iowa to George H.W. Bush but went on to win the nomination. Eight years later, Bush finished third, behind Bob Dole and Pat Robertson, but also went on to win. Four years ago, Mike Huckabee won in Iowa, only to lose the nomination to John McCain.