The Message Obama and Democrats Got from Iowa

Make no mistake. For the White House, the Iowa caucuses were a huge victory.

Why?

Because no clear frontrunner emerged, and the data shows that Mitt Romney at the very least is a very vulnerable winner.

Romney got traditional, upscale, suburban, moderately conservative Republican voters. He did not do particularly well with Tea Party voters, and he did not do particularly well even with moderate Republicans, who went with Ron Paul.

Paul, by contrast, brought new voters into the process, and was able to win the independents who participated, as well as those who were looking for a true conservative. Rick Santorum did best with social conservatives, and won the Tea Party voters and very conservative constituencies.

This tells the White House that there are huge opportunities in this swing state. The President and his supporters understand that in a state Obama won by nine points in 2008, there will be a real opportunity to make inroads with independents, who until recently have overwhelmingly been trending away from the president.

Put simply, Mitt Romney’s appeal in Iowa and I suspect in other states is somewhat limited, and would have to expand significantly were he to win the Republican nomination.

To be clear, the president himself is in a vulnerable position. His web broadcast Tuesday night in Iowa was meant to reassure his base that he was committed to them. He spoke of ending the war in Iraq, health care, and about core Democratic issues; he was not trying to reach out to swing voters in the middle.

Indeed, the e-mail that Patrick Gaspard and Jim Messina sent out immediately after the Iowa caucuses sought to position the Republican Party as being on the extreme right, without in any way suggesting any degree of moderation from the administration or from the president.

But that will have to change, and last night is a sign of the opportunities that exist. The White House will conclude that given the Iowa numbers, they have a fertile territory in which they can beat up Mitt Romney in the weeks to come. It is less likely now than it was before yesterday that Romney will wrap up the nomination quickly. If the process goes beyond March 6th – Super Tuesday – without a clear knockout, you can expect the White House to attack Romney and the Republicans as extremist right wingers who are unrepresentative of the mainstream of both Iowa and the country.

The White House, looking at the same data that we at Fox News analyzed, will certainly reach a similar conclusion: centrist voters are depressed, independent voters are reduced, and young people have a palpable lack of enthusiasm. All of this, they will conclude, can and indeed must be reversed.

The numbers Tuesday night suggest a much broader opportunity for the White House to do what they need to do in one of the most important swing states for them. Make no mistake: the rhetoric aside, they will conclude that the center in Iowa, and indeed the midwest, is up for grabs in a way that they probably did not think was possible a few days ago.

To be sure, it is not going to be easy sledding for the president. His negative rating with independents is well above 50%, approaching 55% - 60%. His approval rating with this group is below 40%. Still, with the Republican division and disunity, I am certain that the White House is privately heartened by the numbers, and will be doing their best to hide their enthusiasm with a Republican field that is just as divided after Iowa as it was before Iowa.

Douglas E. Schoen is a political strategist and Fox News contributor. His most recent book is "Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System" published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins.

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