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|Romney Wins Iowa Caucuses, Eight Votes Ahead of Santorum|
|Commentary/Politics - Iowa Politics|
|Written by Lynn Campbell, Hannah Hess, and Andrew Thomason|
|Wednesday, 04 January 2012 12:54|
It was an Iowa-caucus night that came down to the wire, with former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania U.S. Senator Rick Santorum running neck-and-neck for first place in the first official contest leading up to the Republican presidential nomination.
At 1:36 a.m. Wednesday, the Republican Party of Iowa declared Romney the winner by just eight votes over Santorum, the dark-horse candidate who ran his campaign on a shoestring budget. With all of the state’s 1,774 precincts reporting, Romney received 30,015 votes to Santorum’s 30,007; both men received 25 percent of the vote.
Texas U.S. Representative Ron Paul finished third with 21 percent of the vote, followed by former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (13 percent), Texas Governor Rick Perry (10 percent), and Minnesota U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann (5 percent).
Since 1972, no candidate who has finished worse than third in Iowa has gone on to win a major-party presidential nomination. Bachmann dropped out of the race on Wednesday after her sixth-place finish.
GOP officials said caucus rules do not provide for a recount when there’s a close vote because it’s an event run by the political party and not the government.
The virtual tie led both Romney and Santorum to make their speeches in advance of knowing the final results of the state’s first-in-the-nation presidential-nominating contest. Next up is the January 10 New Hampshire primary.
“Game on!” declared Santorum, who was Iowa’s most frequent visitor this caucus cycle, spending about 100 days in the state but remaining at the back of the pack until a late surge around Christmas.
“Thank you, Iowa, for the great send-off you’re giving to us and the other winners of this campaign,” Romney gushed, as he took the stage at Hotel Fort Des Moines to congratulate his Republican competitors and his own campaign.
For Santorum, Tuesday’s results were a near-repeat of what former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee did in Iowa four years ago: a social-conservative candidate coming from behind.
The crowd at Santorum’s party at the Stoney Creek Inn in Johnston grew larger and more enthusiastic as the night drew on. They chanted, “Go, Rick! Go, Rick!” and “We pick Rick! We pick Rick!” as they saw results coming in on TV. Showing their evangelical side, they also sang “Amazing Grace” and “God Bless America” as they waited.
Evangelical voters were key to Santorum’s success. He was endorsed December 20 by Iowa social-conservative leaders Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley, after a campaign in which such voters were sharply divided on whether to support Santorum, Perry, or Bachmann.
“I kind of believe in what he says, that we shouldn’t settle on a candidate,” said Jeremy Masterson, 33, of Prairie City, who attended Santorum’s post-caucus party. “I believe in his conservative values. That’s something we’ve kind of gotten away from here recently. Plus, the way he did it, the way he started from the ground up in visiting all 99 counties, it really tells me that he supports the people.”
Steve Scheffler, a Republican National Committee member from West Des Moines who’s president of the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, told IowaPolitics.com that he doesn’t believe the endorsements were the reason for Santorum’s surge. “Even before endorsements, he was coming up in the pack,” Scheffler said. “He laid a groundwork a long time ago. At the end of the day, people have a lot of respect for candidates who actually try to come and win their vote.”
For Romney, Tuesday’s win secures his place as a national front-runner for the nomination. “We’re going to change the White House and get America back on track,” he declared.
Kim Schmett of Clive, a former Polk County Republican chair and congressional candidate who said he went to see most of this year’s GOP presidential candidates 10 to 15 times apiece, said it was Romney’s experience as a business leader that made him recently decide to support the former Massachusetts governor.
“He has the best chance to win,” Schmett said. “There’s too much at stake of where our government is headed to not win this election. His skill set is almost perfectly matched for what our country needs at the moment.”
An Iowa win was the outcome that Romney had hoped for in the 2008 campaign, when he spent more than $10 million in Iowa and campaigned in all of the state’s 99 counties, only to finish second to Huckabee in the caucuses. That cycle, Romney had 52 full-time staffers; this time, he had only five, he told the crowd of 200 supporters who were invited to join his victory celebration.
Romney only spent about 20 days in Iowa during the recent caucus campaign and much less money, although his spending was boosted by the “super PAC” Restore Our Future, which ran TV ads attacking Gingrich. Combined, Romney and the super PAC spent more than $1.5 million on 2,246 ad spots in the Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Quad Cities markets, according to an analysis by IowaPolitics.com.
“Many of Romney’s critics lambaste him for not paying enough attention to Iowa, not enough days visiting here in the last year,” said former Iowa House Speaker Chris Rants of Sioux City. “But tonight Romney will see the fruits of the labor he put in four years ago.”
Rants, a former senior adviser to Michigan U.S. Representative Thad McCotter – who last year briefly sought the GOP nomination for president – said Republicans want a candidate they trust. But he said that even more than four years ago, they also want a candidate who can win.
Paul, who had attracted large crowds throughout the campaign, on Tuesday night addressed a crowd of several hundred supporters, many of them young, at the Courtyard Marriott hotel in Ankeny shortly after learning that he came in third in the caucus. The Texas congressman said that even though he brought home the bronze medal, his campaign pillar of very limited government won.
“Those are the issues that we have brought front-and-center,” Paul said. “They’re out there. They’re not going away.”
Paul’s promises to cut entire federal-government departments and end the war in Afghanistan prompted Joe Stevens to vote for Paul on Tuesday. “He’s got a plan to balance the budget, to cut spending,” Stevens said. “I think those are key.”
Paul promised the roaring crowd that he will keep up his campaign. “I think there’s nothing to be ashamed of, everything to be satisfied [with], and be ready and raring to move on, on to the next stop,” he said.
Paul has long complained that the media wasn’t giving him the attention he was due, despite a second-place finish in the August 13 Ames Straw Poll, steadily growing public support in opinion polls, and crowds as large as 1,000 that turned out to see him, especially on college campuses.
Many pundits doubt whether Paul, who previously ran for president as a libertarian in 1988 and as a Republican in 2008, can secure the Republican nomination for president. Fellow Republicans have been critical of his advocacy for ending all wars and bringing U.S. troops home.
Yet political analysts pointed out that while the caucus campaign featured a series of “flavors of the month” – Bachmann to Perry to former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain to Gingrich – support for Romney and Paul has remained steady at 20 percent or higher.
Gingrich promised to continue is campaign, and Perry said he was returning to Texas to “determine whether there is a path forward in this race.”
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