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Mitt Romney “Wins” Iowa By Eight Votes, Santorum A Very Close Second

The polls were all telling us that the Iowa Caucus was going to be close. As the night wore on last night, it became very clear very early that it was going to be a long night, with the lead changing several times in the course of just an hour, but I think that few people thought that the final result would end up being as close as it turned out to be. Mitt Romney ended up getting almost the exact same number of caucus votes that he did in 2008, Rick Santorum surprised, and the outcome was decided just a handful of voters among a caucus turnout that looks to have been smaller than the one Republicans drew in the Hawkeye State four years ago:

DES MOINES — Mitt Romney’s quest to swiftly lock down the Republican presidential nomination with a commanding finish in the Iowa caucuses was undercut on Tuesday night by the surging candidacy of Rick Santorum, who fought him to a draw on a shoestring budget by winning over conservatives who remain skeptical of Mr. Romney.

In the first Republican contest of the season, the two candidates were separated much of the night by only a sliver of votes, with Mr. Romney being declared the winner by eight ballots early Wednesday morning. But the outcome offered Mr. Santorum a chance to emerge as the alternative to Mr. Romney as the race moves to New Hampshire and South Carolina without Gov. Rick Perry, who announced that he was returning to Texas to assess his candidacy.

“Being here in Iowa has made me a better candidate,” Mr. Santorum said, arriving at a caucus in Clive, where he urged Republicans to vote their conscience. “Don’t sell America short. Don’t put someone out there from Iowa who isn’t capable of doing what America needs done.”

The Iowa caucuses did not deliver a clean answer to what type of candidate Republicans intend to rally behind to try to defeat President Obama and win back the White House. With 99 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Santorum and Mr. Romney, whose views represent the polar sides of the party, each had 24.6 percent.

“Onto New Hampshire, let’s get that job done!” Mr. Romney told supporters at a late-night rally, when he was five votes shy of Mr. Santorum. “Come visit us there, we’ve got some work ahead.”

The last time the Iowa caucuses produced such a close outcome was in 1980, when George Bush beat Ronald Reagan by two percentage points.

Representative Ron Paul of Texas was a close third on Tuesday with 21 percent of the caucus votes.

“We will go on,” he said in an upbeat speech. “There is nothing to be ashamed of.”

But with a margin of only eight votes, Mitt Romney wasn’t the only one with a plausible claim of victory. Rick Santorum started at the back of the pack and stayed that until almost the last minute, and his speech repeated many of the same themes he’s been hitting on for the past year or more:

Though Santorum’s old-fashioned, shoe-leather approach to campaigning paid off in Iowa, the question now is how far he can go from here, given his lack of resources and the need to ramp up a national organization.

In his victory speech, San­torum alluded to concerns that he was not up to a contest with Romney. “Let me tell you what wins in America are bold ideas, sharp contrasts and a plan that includes everyone,” Santorum said.

Santorum also will come under the kind of scrutiny and criticism that he was spared when the other contenders did not view him as a threat.

Paul, for instance, has already branded Santorum “very liberal,” and Perry has described the former senator as “addicted to earmarks.”

For his part, Santorum has said Paul is “disgusting,” and he blamed Paul’s campaign for automated phone calls in which voters were told that the vehemently antiabortion Santorum was, instead, more supportive of abortion rights.

Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, ended on bitter note and gave a probable signal of what we can expect from him in the coming week:

There are two candidates battling for first place in Iowa tonight and only one whom Newt Gingrich admires.

Addressing his supporters after finishing a disappointing fourth place in the caucuses, Gingrich said his fight was far from over — and went out of his way to praise one of the two candidates at the top of the pack.

Rick Santorum, Gingrich said, is “somebody we admire and somebody whose family we admire.”

“He waged a great, positive campaign,” he continued. “I admire the courage, the discipline, the way he focused, and I also admire how positive he was.”

Then this dagger, obviously directed at Mitt Romney: “I wish I could say that for all the candidates.”

Michele Bachmann finished dead last among the active candidates but vowed last night to continue on even though it’s unclear what plausible excuse to do so. It was Rick Perry, though, who surprised his crowd of supporters last night by making an announcement that all but said he’s probably going to be out of this race soon:

After finishing fifth in the Iowa caucuses, Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced Tuesday that he would postpone plans to campaign in South Carolina and return home to reassess whether to continue his presidential bid.

“With a little prayer and a little reflection, I’m going to decide the best path forward,” Perry told supporters in his concession speech in West Des Moines.

“I’ve decided to return to Texas,” Perry continued, to “determine whether there is a path forward for myself in this race.”

With 96.6 percent of precincts reporting, Perry had received just over 12,000 votes – 10.3 percent of the total.

During his speech, Perry read a letter from one of his supporters saying the Texas governor had “brought [him] to tears,” using that letter to thank his many supporters and volunteers for their work.

“I just want to say thank you to everyone who’s come and volunteered and made the most incredible experience for myself and for the woman that I’ve been so blessed to have by my side all these many years,” he said, standing next to his wife Anita.

Up until he took the podium last night, Perry had been saying that he was heading from Iowa straight to South Carolina to start campaigning there. A smart move on his part, for the reasons I discussed yesterday. However those events are canceled now and it’s unlikely that they’ll be rescheduled. Even though he still reportedly has as much as $3 million left in the bank if not more, Perry’s performance last night was a pretty good indication that this is the end of the road for him. Unlike Bachmann, Perry isn’t a crusader who seems either willing or able to engage in a guerrilla campaign for a short period of time. He had his shot as a top tier candidate, if not the nearly-annointed nominee, back in September and he stumbled badly. My guess is we hear within the next 24-48 hours that he’s “suspending his campaign,” a move that is likely to help Rick Santorum most of all (although Perry’s support in places like New Hampshire was so non-existent that it will hardly matter).

With the results this close, it’s hard to really say what the outcome in Iowa actually means, or what impact it will have on the race. Notwithstanding the fact that its only an eight-vote margin, Mitt Romney has got to feel better about the fact that he came in a close first than he would have had a come in an equally close second. After all, a win is a win and Romney could still stand up last night and credibly claim that he won the Iowa Caucuses. Of course, thanks to the fact that it was only an eight vote margin, Santorum could similarly claim victory last night and, considering the fact that he had literally spent the last year of the race in last place among the active candidates, his achievement was all the more remarkable even if it was made possible mostly by the fact that all the not-Romney’s that came before him flamed out way too early.

The question for Santorum now is where he goes from here. Thanks to the fact that he did so well last night, Santorum really has no choice but to go to New Hampshire and make a go of it. Barring something even more surprising than what we saw in Iowa, though, it seems unlikely that he’ll be able to really make waves there. The most recent Suffolk Poll, released just yesterday, showed Romney with a 27 point lead over his nearest opponent and Santorum all the way down at 5 percent. Also, last night, CNN conducted a “Flash Poll” in New Hampshire that showed little movement and not much of an indication of a move to Santorum. New Hampshire is likely to be polled heavily over the next six days, of course, so the possibility of a movement toward Santorum still exists. Right now, though, the top three in the Granite State are Romney, Paul, and Huntsman, and indication that perhaps Santorum is not the kind of candidate New Hampshireites are looking for.

As for what all this means, it’s certainly clear that we are still in that phase of the race where the GOP’s ideological divide is making people reluctant to get behind Romney, even though they know that he’s the one best situated to beat the President in November. How else can you explain the jump from candidate to candidate over the past six months, and now the fact that even conservatives couldn’t unite behind a single candidate? If the caucus voters how had gone for Gingrich, Perry, and Bachmann, or even just a majority of them, had voted for Santorum instead, then he would have had a clear victory last night. Instead, the muddle continued and the race moves on to a phase that seems to clearly benefit Mitt Romney more than the two major rivals against him coming out of Iowa, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul , both of whom are flawed in their own way and unlikely to last very long in the end.

Philip Klein, meanwhile, looks at the Iowa results and sees something for Republicans to worry about:

Even if Romney wins the nomination, the Iowa results don’t bode well for when it comes to assessing the Republican Party’s chances of beating President Obama in November. Though turnout was up from the 2008 caucuses, it was only up by a few thousand votes, even as GOP voter registration grew and more candidates were contesting the state. Romney actually got six fewer votes this time than he did four years ago, but it was enough because nobody matched Mike Huckabee’s appeal.

Four years ago, Democrats were frothing at the mouth to win back the White House after two terms of President Bush. Starting from Iowa, the enthusiasm they felt was palpable — and they would have been ready to fight for whoever emerged as the nominee. The night he won the caucuses, Obama addressed a crowd with thousands of supporters going wild. We haven’t seen any of the GOP candidates attract that sort of affection. And the entrance polls suggest conservatives still have major doubts about Romney. Tonight’s big winner may turn out to be neither Romney nor Santorum, but Obama.

This is a good point, but perhaps the reason that voters haven’t coalesced around any one of the Not-Romney’s for more than a few weeks at a time is because each of these candidates has been deeply flawed. Michele Bachmann was a flake. Rick Perry failed to live up to his reputation as the kind of campaigner who could take on the President of the United States. Herman Cain’s campaign was a self-parody from the beginning. Newt Gingirch was, and will always be, Newt Gingrich and anyone who was surprised by his rapid rise and even more rapid fall hasn’t paid attention to Gingrich’s career. Now, the man wearing the “Not Romney” crown is Rick Santorum, perhaps the weakest candidate of the bunch in terms of campaign resources. Santorum is a man with his own flaws, not the least of them being a radical vision of social conservatism that will turn off independent voters in a General Election and a record in Congress that isn’t exactly fiscally responsible. Does anyone really think he’s going to last any longer than the others? Perhaps he will, but it seems very unlikely.

One final point. For all the campaigning, all the polling, all the caucusing, and the late night that many people had last night, guess how many Republican National Convention delegates were awarded last night? Precisely zero. In addition to the numbers we’re paying attention to, last night’s caucuses also elected precinct delegates to county conventions which take place on March 16th. Those county conventions will send delegates to Congressional District conventions which take place on April 21st. That Congressional District Convention will send delegates to the Iowa State GOP convention, which takes place June 16th. The Iowa State GOP convention is the body that selects the delegates to the Republican National Convention. Four years ago, Mike Huckabee won the Caucuses, but the delegates that went to the Republican National Convention were all McCain delegates. So, basically, we just wasted a year of time.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. An Interested Party says:

    The real winner of this mess is the President…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  2. Hey Norm says:

    Truly a frothy mix.
    Winner? Obama.
    Why is everyone so convinced that Mitt, who has only ever won one gubernatorial race couldn’t win a second term and lost a senate race and a Presidential primary, can win now with a perpetual 25% of the electorate?
    Clearly the quality GOP candidates decided to wait for ’16.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  3. John Peabody says:

    The last information Doug printed [zero delegates awarded] was news to me. I’ve started to wonder if the elections are more about providing media content (meaning, media sales) than an election process. The difference of eight votes hardly matters to the nation. But newspapers, television, and yes, even political websites, just don’t stop talking about it. I do my part, as the consumer, by reading it. *sigh*

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  4. BluePenguin says:

    @John Peabody: You make a good point the only winners here are the press. How much time/columns have been spent on Iowa.

    I was surprised at how convoluted the whole process is in Iowa. A lot of touch points before the delegates are selected. Reinforces that first in the nation really doesn’t mean anything.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. James says:

    @John Peabody:

    elections are more about providing media content (meaning, media sales) than an election process.

    Once you understand this, it becomes a lot easier to keep the whole process in perspective. That being said, Iowa is useful in that it helps winnow the field of the Herman Cain-type book tour candidates.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  6. superdestroyer says:

    @Hey Norm:

    Romney did not run for re-election to governor in 2006 in Mass. In addition, Romney ran for the Senate before winning the governor’s race in 2002.

    Also, the idea that quality candidates in 2016 for the Republicans is laughable. In the current media climate, all Republicans will be shown to have serious flaws when running for office. That is what happens in a one-party-state. After Romney loses in another rout, I doubt if the media will pay much attention to the Republican primary in 2016 because the real election for president will occur in Iowa and New Hampshire in January 2016. By Feb 2016, everyone will now who will be the next president and the U.S. will go through almost a full year of transition.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2

  7. Lomax says:

    We had a “caucus” at our house last night while we watched the bowl game.
    Winner: Jesse Ventura – 4 votes
    others – Trump – 1 vote, Squidward – 2 votes, Condoleeza Rice – 1 vote, Tim Tebow – 1 vote

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  8. Fiona says:

    After watching Romney’s speech last night, I can understand why enthusiasm for him is tepid at best. He may be competent, but he generates all the warmth and humanity of a refrigerator. Santorum’s speech was a lot more sincere and moving. When you combine Romney’s severe charisma deficit with is Mormonism and record of major flip-flops, it’s hard to see how he generates much enthusiasm for the evangelical Republican base. While I think it’s likely he does win the nomination, I’m not sure he generates significant turnout. Paul people will likely avoid him and evangelicals might decide to sit this one out.

    The Democrats face an enthusiasm problem of their own, but in a Romney-Obama contest, provided that the economy is moving along, Obama is the better candidate for a variety of reasons.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  9. Hey Norm says:

    @ Superdestroyer…
    Romney didn’t run for a second term because it was accepted he COULD NOT WIN a second term. And now, while running for President, he can’t even own his signature accomplishment as a one term Governor.
    Last night he essentially tied a guy that is a friggin’ joke…a guy that lost his last senate race by 18%…in his own district. A guy that is the laughing stock of the internet (google Santorum).
    And for all the talk of enthusiasm…take Ron Paul out of the race and what happens to turnout last night?
    Good luck in ’16.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  10. rodney dill says:

    @Lomax: I had higher hopes for Squidward.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  11. superdestroyer says:

    @Hey Norm:

    There is no point in the Republicans worrying about the 2016 presidential election. That election will be decided in Iowa and New Hampshire during the Democratic primary season. By January 31, 2016, everyone will know who will be the next president. The only question for the future is why does the media pay so much attention to Republican candidates who have no chance of winning?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2

  12. rodney dill says:

    @Hey Norm:

    A guy that is the laughing stock of the internet (google Santorum).

    Yes, Dan Savage’s google bomb is a true monument to the liberal mind-set.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  13. Hey Norm says:
  14. rodney dill says:

    LOL,.. again the derogatory path says more about the ‘name-caller’ than the target.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. Lomax says:

    @rodney dill: On to New Hampshire and SC.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. PD Shaw says:

    Back in September, I predicted that 25% was the most likely result for Romney in Iowa. I just didn’t know whether that was enough to win or all of the other stuff like the Herman Cain surge and collapse, the Gingrich surge and collapse, the Paul surgelet and Santorum.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. DRS says:

    I think the turnout figure is the most interesting – do we have a hard-number comparison with 2008 yet? This is the second place I’ve seen the reference to turnout being less than last time but with no percentage. It might take a couple of days to get a good number. I can wait.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. There were approximately 122,000 people attending caucuses last night. That was slightly higher than the approximately 119,000 that attended in 2008

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. mattb says:

    One question that remains is whether or not Newt’s promise to “tell the truth” about Romney is signals a scorched earth campaign to END Romney. Man, “Old Newt” returns and goes full out on Romney, that could potentially shakes things up in a really interesting (and damaging to the GOP 2012 chances) ways.

    Of course the same was speculated about Clinton when things really began to go south with Obama, but that didn’t happen.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. @rodney dill:

    LOL,.. again the derogatory path says more about the ‘name-caller’ than the target.

    No, the “8 votes short of a win” for the evolution denier says more about the party.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  21. Doug, I have a question: coming into work this morning, the cafeteria had CNN on. They had at the bottom “Delegates at stake: 25”. What did that mean?

    Also, I don’t see how last night is good for the Republican party. No matter who wins the actual nomination, I’m seeing a bitterly divided party between the establishment (Romney), the Jesus Freaks (Santorum and the other pretenders), and the libertarians/kids (Ron Paul). When one of those three win, what happens to the other 60% of the vote?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  22. SKI says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    There were approximately 122,000 people attending caucuses last night. That was slightly higher than the approximately 119,000 that attended in 2008

    True but 86% of the 119,000 were GOP registered in 2008 and only 75% were in 2012.
    Put in terms of GOP enthusiasm, 102,000+ Republicans attended the caucuses in 2008 and only 91,500 this year. That isn’t promising for the GOP’s chances in November…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  23. Hey Norm says:

    @ Doug…
    How many of those additional 3000+/- were Democrats who don’t have a primary this time around?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. rodney dill says:

    @john personna: I think we’re talking about different subjects, but I’m not sure what Santorum’s surge means to the party. What do you think it says about the party? You didn’t say what you think it means.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. Hey Norm says:

    @ MattB
    Whether it’s Newt or Obama or Democratic PAC’s it’s going to happen. I’m sure Obama hopes it’s Newt.
    No one has gone after Romney in a big way yet. Each of the Not-Mitts have been put under the microscope and found wanting. It’s only a matter of time before the same happens to the actualbutstillphony-Mitt.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  26. DRS says:

    Thanks, Doug.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. Jib says:

    My Tea Party contacts blame W for this fiasco. According to them, everyone who was anyone in the repub party joined W’s admin. They thought it was going to be a repeat of Reagan’s admin and having it on your resume would stamp your ticket for running in 2008 and beyond. Turned out being in W’s admin is toxic even for repubs and that has wiped out a generation of conservative politicians.

    Everyone says Romney has the best chance of winning against Obama but I think that is a misreading of polls. Romney polls the best of the other candidates but Romney has no chance of winning in the fall baring a sizable economic collapse (which actually has a small but none zero chance of occurring). And if we have a sizable economic collapse, almost any repub would have a good chance of winning. Romney is not likable, he has no charisma or passion, he has no ideology, and he is an ex-Wall Street banker. So if you are going to lose any way why waste a campaign on someone you dont like?

    Because there actually is no one else running.

    So does Ron Paul make a 3rd party run?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  28. Fiona says:

    @mattb:

    Of course the same was speculated about Clinton when things really began to go south with Obama, but that didn’t happen.

    Seeing Newt speak last night, you could almost feel his Romney anger emanating out over the airwaves. The Newster feels deeply, deeply wronged (just like he did when Clinton made him ride at the back of the plane), so my money’s on his throwing a major anti-Romney snit over the next few weeks before he fades back into the Faux News commentariat. Unlike Hillary, he’s a narcissistic douche bag who lacks any kind of conscience whatsoever.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  29. @rodney dill:

    At one point (80’s) I had hopes of a post-televangical Republican party. Santorum’s surge reinforces how wrong I was. Yes, this is just an Iowa caucus, but geez. The party of Graham lives.

    (I took you to mean criticism of that phenomenon was overblown.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Man, TPaw must be crying in his coffee this morning. I feel reasonably certain that he would be the “serious” Not Romney right now if he had just stuck it out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  31. Jib says:

    @Gromitt Gunn: TPaw dropped out because of his personal history. Any campaign would have been humiliating to his wife and family. Does not seem to stop people like Gingrich, Edwards, or Bill Clinton but it did stop TPaw. Maybe you really do need to be some kind of sociopath to run for president.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  32. rodney dill says:

    @john personna: I was being critical Dan Savage’s Google Bomb and the subsequent banter in the comments.

    I don’t think an evangelical influence in Iowa was too much of a surprise, but to the extent it occurred, yes that is suprising/concerning. Still I think there was some thought that between Paul and Santorum that Romney might not do as well as he did, NH and SC should be interesting.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  33. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @Jib: I wasn’t aware of personal history issues with Pawlenty. If that’s the reason, then good for him for putting them first.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  34. Jeremy says:

    @Jib: What personal issues were there? I thought it was because he just did badly in the Ames Straw Poll–which clearly means nothing now.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  35. Hey Norm says:

    @ Jib…
    I think you are confusing Mitch Daniels with T-Paw. Daniels had some personal history problems. T-Paw was just a really bad Governor.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  36. An Interested Party says:

    Yes, Dan Savage’s google bomb is a true monument to the liberal mind-set.

    Yes, just as how Santorum feels about people who don’t live their lives like he does is a true monument to the conservative mind-set…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  37. I doubt support for the Google bomb is very wide center and near-left. It’s an activist and far left thing.

    Somewhere there are a band of medium-lefties who wouldn’t help build the bomb, but do joke about it. I’m not that far left, I’m too center. I think it is uncivilized.

    I wonder why an anti-bomb didn’t get tried and work? Did the right not mobilize?

    One thought I had this morning is that the 2012 primaries may be the antidote. The bombers probably can’t keep up with the Santorum press at this point. Hmm. 6,861 people +1’d the bomber site. Surely the Santorum base has more voters than that?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  38. Davebo says:

    It’s an activist and far left thing.

    Homosexuality equals man on dog sex. The guy couldn’t even get re-elected in a state that supported a pedophile football coach!

    Nuf said. Yeah, that’s civilized.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0