01/18/2012 02:16 pm ET Updated Jan 18, 2012

The Historical Significance Of The Iowa Caucus Recount Can Be Overstated

As you may have heard, thanks to an ongoing recount in Iowa, it's looking more and more like Rick Santorum may erase the 8-vote deficit that separated him from Mitt Romney in that state's caucuses, earning the former Pennsylvania senator the right to claim victory. Which would be neat, I guess? But at this point, surely no one is suggesting that this would be some sort of game-changing event, right, John Avlon?

This not only would rewrite the election history of 2012 to date—it would invalidate the oft-repeated line that Mitt Romney is the only candidate to win both Iowa and New Hampshire. It would stop the inevitability narrative in its tracks.

Whoa, whoa, hey now. "Stop the inevitability narrative?" Let's not get crazy, here. While it's true that a Santorum win would prevent Romney from being able to say that he was the historic double-winner in Iowa and New Hampshire, that's just a piece of historical obscuranta. It doesn't factor into Mitt's list of advantages. Let's recall that when everyone was convinced that Santorum was a narrow second-place finisher, his effort was largely blessed as a moral victory of sorts -- it demonstrated that in an era of wealthy campaign war chests and super PAC drone wars, there was still a place for that old-timey, door-to-door, lo-fi retail politics.

Santorum left Iowa on a crest of great press, and no one treated Romney's narrow victory as a significant accomplishment. And that's despite the fact that it sort of was -- let's recall that there were long periods of time during the summer and fall of 2011 where the Romney campaign publicly wrote Iowa off. It wasn't until it became clear that he might prevail as the Not-Romney field divided the vote that he decided to go for it, and to the end they essentially treated their good result in Iowa as gravy. Once you set aside all of the sentimental fuzz of Santorum doin' it old school, the fact of the matter was that Romney's half-hearted efforts in Iowa were sufficient to essentially tie a guy who'd spent the past year camping out in the Hawkeye State. Nevertheless, if you wanted to maintain the "vulnerable Mitt" narrative, you could: after Iowa, Romney was still "Mr. 25%" -- the candidate with a ceiling, the frontrunner who couldn't close the deal.

Except in New Hampshire, Romney did close the deal, and now he's staked out a front-runner position in South Carolina and Florida.

But, okay, Rick Santorum may end up the winner in Iowa. I still don't see how this "stopping the inevitability narrative" is supposed to work, exactly. Are we to presume that South Carolina voters would toss out all of their already formed opinions because Santorum transformed a narrow Iowa loss into a narrow Iowa win? That seems really dubious. Naturally, should Santorum or Newt Gingrich actually defeat Romney in South Carolina (and while this is still a stretch, there remains a possibility that Gingrich might pull it off), that would derail Romney's inevitability narrative. But I seriously doubt South Carolina voters are on pins and needles over the Iowa result. (I am not alone in these doubts.)

(Avlon's blow-by-blow of what's going on with the recount is well-reported and detailed, so go read the whole thing. This, however, was odd: "In addition, and somewhat bizarrely, the former governor of Louisiana, Buddy Roemer—who had dropped out of the GOP primary contest weeks before—received six votes." If Roemer dropped out of the GOP primary contest in December of 2011, that would be news to Buddy Roemer!)

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