Iowa caucuses: Romney 2012 vs. Romney 2008

Updated
 
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a town hall meeting, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011, in Sioux City, Iowa.
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a town hall meeting, Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011, in Sioux City, Iowa.
AP Photo/Eric Gay

Most of the last-minute polling shows Mitt Romney holding a narrow lead among Republicans in Iowa.  Indeed, if you average the last six polls, Romney is 1.3% ahead of Ron Paul, according to Real Clear Politics.

OK, let’s assume Romney pulls out a narrow lead and wins Tuesday’s caucuses.  That’d be a big improvement over his second-place finish behind Mike Huckabee in 2008, right?

Well, maybe.

Last time around, Romney finished with 25.19% of the vote.  The RCP average of the last six polls shows Romney with only 22.8% this time around.  True, the actual ‘12 results may boost him up a bit from that, but basically there’s no indication that Romney will show improvement in four years.  

Does that show strength or weakness for Romney?

The strength argument goes something like this: in 2008, Huckabee was the only evangelical in the race.  This time around the social conservative vote (which makes up about 60% of Republican caucusgoers) has many more choices, including with Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann.  

And because many of those evangelicals are skeptical of Romney’s Mormonism, its amazing Romney is holding steady from 2008.

The weakness argument counters that Romney’s been actively running for president for five years now.  And critics, like the National Review’s Jim Geraghty, argue the 2008 GOP field was stronger than the 2012 candidates.  

Remember the big names of ‘08?  Besides Huckabee, there was McCain, Guliani, Thompson and not to mention Ron Paul.  The fact that Romney is doing about the same in ‘12 shows weakness.

And here’s one more item to chew on.  The all-time weakest showing (by showing, we mean percentage) for a winner in the GOP Iowa caucuses was Bob Dole back in 1996, when he won with just 26% (and he was from nearby Kansas!).  According to the polls, Romney could beat Dole’s low mark tomorrow.

So if Romney wins the Iowa caucuses tomorrow, but his percentage is lower than his 2008 finish and/or lower than Bob Dole’s in 1996, what kind of victory would that be?

Iowa and Mitt Romney

Iowa caucuses: Romney 2012 vs. Romney 2008

Updated