Illustration by DonkeyHotey/

All eyes were on Iowa Tuesday. And those that were still open were focused there early Wednesday morning too thanks to the tightest GOP presidential nomination race in Iowa caucus history.

But why does the Hawkeye State matter so much? This question was posed to Dave Robertson, Curators’ Teaching Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, during his analysis Tuesday night on KSDK (Channel 5) as returns continued to roll in from the state’s 1,774 precincts.

“It matters because so many candidates are still in the game in the first contest of the year,” Robertson said on KSDK. “And they’re fighting to survive and to go forward and to have the credibility to be able to get the money, get the organization to have the potential to win the nomination. Some candidates tonight are probably gone.”

He was right on the latter. And the political scientist was back on the KSDK set the next day to discuss Michele Bachmann’s exit from the race and the narrow finish in Iowa where only eight votes separated Mitt Romney from Rick Santorum for a first-place finish.

Santorum’s strong showing caught some by surprise. The question now seems to be his viability as a candidate.

“Indeed, he seemed to be at least the flavor of this week,” Terry Jones, professor of political science at UMSL, said on KTVI (Channel 2). “His challenge now will be to gather enough momentum and dollars to do well in the primaries to come.”

Jones later told the St. Louis Beacon that Santorum’s campaign could be helped if he’s able to attract Bachmann backers, who share his social conservative stance.

With the New Hampshire primary looming, a Kansas City (Mo.) Star article posed the question “Will Mitt Romney be inevitable GOP nominee?” The Iowa caucus results might indicate it’s still too early to pick a clear frontrunner for the GOP nomination.

“The fact that so many people are putting in some effort into finding a way to coalesce behind an alternative suggests some unease about Romney as the standard-bearer for the party,” Robertson told the Kansas City Star.

Ryan Heinz

Ryan Heinz