Final Tally: Romney Wins Iowa By Just 8 Votes



After months of campaigning and a roller-coaster rotation of poll leaders, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney were locked in a virtual tie for first place in Iowa’s Republican caucuses Tuesday night.

At 1:33 a.m., the state Republican Party finally announced the uncertified vote totals, with Romney getting 30,015 votes to Santorum’s 30,007 votes. Romney’s vote total was barely more than he received in 2008, and both he and Santorum fell well short of the 40,000 votes that Mike Huckabee won with that year.

They were followed by Ron Paul in third place, then Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Jon Huntsman.

If Santorum and Romney finished deadlocked, it would be the first, first-place tie in 40 years of the caucuses.

Previously, the closest Republican caucus night result was in 1980, when George H.W. Bush edged Ronald Reagan by 2.1% of the vote. Bush had 31.6% to Reagan’s 29.5% of the vote. The closest Democratic caucus result was in 1972, the first-ever caucus, when uncommitted delegates edged Edmund Muskie by three-tenths of a percent.

The tie at the top was created in the campaign’s final days when a large number of caucusgoers put their in Rick Santorum, a coal miner’s son from Pennsylvania who was little more than an afterthought until the final weeks of the race.

Five years ago, Santorum was given up for political dead after his devastating 18-point loss in a U.S. Senate re-election bid. And in this race, he was mired in polling nowhereville until he turned into a last-instant supernova.

If the caucuses had been held in June, Romney might have been the sole winner. The former Massachusetts governor was perched at the top of the polls at the time.In early August, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, triumphant in the Iowa straw poll, seemed the likely caucus victor. Or perhaps it would have been Paul, the Texas congressman, who finished 152 votes behind her in Ames.

By early September: Rick Perry, the Texas governor, was the star of the 2012 race.

By early October, Herman Cain, a retired pizza chain chief was the front-runner in Iowa polling.

By early December: Gingrich, a former longtime congressional leader, was king.

But the caucuses were in early January. And Santorum and Romney emerged together on top Tuesday night.

Santorum’s tie for first was a startling triumph for a candidate who last month drew only a handful of people to some of his campaign events, even after he threw himself into more than 100 days on the campaign trail, circling the state in campaign aide Chuck Laudner’s vehicle (the “Chuck Truck”).

When The Des Moines Register began its final pre-caucus polling a week before caucus night, Santorum was at 10 percent among likely Iowa GOP caucusgoers, but jetted to 22 percent by the end of polling Friday, just 1 percentage point behind Romney.

The promising polling injected Santorum’s campaign with adrenaline – and swelled his crowds and media attention.

“I’ve had the national media crawling up anywhere they can crawl,” Santorum said at a coffee shop campaign stop on New Year’s Day. In a sign of confidence, Santorum’s campaign later that day trumpeted details about an “IOWA CAUCUS NIGHT VICTORY PARTY.”

Santorum survived last-minute daggers from his rivals – about earmarks, his endorsement of abortion-rights supporter Arlen Specter in 2004, his endorsement of Romney four years ago as “the clear conservative candidate” and recent comments on the campaign trail.

Santorum was the only GOP presidential candidate of this cycle who campaigned in Iowa in 2010 against three Iowa Supreme Court justices who took part in a unanimous decision that legalized same-sex marriage.

“The architect of that campaign was one Chuck Laudner, who now is the architect of Santorum’s late surge here,” noted longtime politics watcher Kay Henderson of Radio Iowa.

Santorum banked on Christian/social conservatives to unite behind him – and they did. The next question is whether he has the staying power to run a national campaign for several months.

Will he repeat Mike Huckabee’s fate of winning Iowa but quickly running out of money and organization in later states?
GOP strategist David Polyansky said, “Santorum would be best suited to wave at New Hampshire from his plane as he heads straight to South Carolina to try to build off his momentum and build a team capable of competing there.”

If Perry, Bachmann or Gingrich disappears from the landscape, Santorum could tap into those organizations for an instant operation, he said.

But Santorum is New Hampshire-bound: He has a 7:30 p.m. “Faith, Family and Freedom” town hall in Brentwood, N.H., Wednesday night.

Meanwhile, Romney’s campaign strategists had carefully staged expectations to persuade the public and media that the former Massachusetts governor could emerge strongly from Iowa with a close second- or third-place finish. That strategy proved prescient.

Romney targeted mainstream, business-oriented Republicans, including those who ushered Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad back into the governor’s mansion in fall 2010. Romney left his competitors to wrestle for smaller blocs of born-again Christians, social conservatives and tea party supporters.

Four years ago, Romney ran a kitchen-sink campaign with a staff of 52 and an expensive, smothering presence in Iowa. This year, his campaign machine rumbled quietly along without him. Until the final week, he popped in for only occasional visits, with an upbeat message about economic opportunity.

During the first couple weeks in November, Romney’s top strategists re-examined the situation in Iowa and saw promise: a fractured field, pent-up demand for candidate visits, and a responsiveness to his message. They finalized their game plan for the closing weeks, with TV ads, direct mail, two days of campaigning in November and eight days in December.

Paul’s support increased in each of The Des Moines Register’s four pre-caucus Iowa Polls. Many Iowa caucusgoers connected with Paul’s belief in less government spending and regulation, in free trade and private property rights and in opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Paul’s campaign was considered the best-prepared team in Iowa – well-funded and focused on the task at hand.

“While there certainly are a significant number of Iowa Republicans who would never consider caucusing for Ron Paul, he is one of the few candidates with the level of intensity by his supporters to make up for such a disadvantage,” Polyansky said.

But caucusgoers Tuesday night pushed him to third.

Some respondents in last week’s Iowa Poll said they worried about Paul’s prospects in the general election.

As Paul steadily climbed in the polls, other candidates began to step up attacks, in particular criticizing his views on Iran. Paul believes his rivals are overreacting to Iran’s potential for developing nuclear weapons. News stories also called attention in recent weeks to newsletters he sponsored in the late 1970s that contained racist remarks.

Gingrich introduced a “21st Century Contract with America” in late September and claimed the mantle of the idea guy in the 2012 race. He soared to the top of the polls in Iowa in late November.

But by last week’s Iowa Poll, likely caucusgoers had a negative opinion of him, picking him as the least consistent in the field, the most ego-driven and the least dedicated to limiting the influence of government or reducing government debt.

A barrage of negative advertisements fueled some of that, as well as Gingrich’s own comments, poll respondents said.
Perry had never lost an election until caucus night.

When he burst into the race, he was a well-financed juggernaut, powerful enough to make his rivals nervous. He announced his candidacy in South Carolina the day of the straw poll, “drowning out Bachmann’s victory lap but indicating a level of unsophistication when it comes to the pride that Iowans feel about ‘process,'” Polyansky said.

After that, “Perry spent an inordinate amount of time in states such as New Hampshire and South Carolina – leaving his lead/flank in Iowa open to others who took advantage of it and never let go,” Polyansky said.

Iowa Republicans’ confidence in him faltered when he stumbled through groggy debate performances, including his “oops” moment when he couldn’t recite the third of three agencies he wants to eliminate.

Bachmann declared she would run for president in June during a nationally televised debate, then made her candidacy official during a rally in her hometown of Waterloo. But her campaign sagged immediately after the straw poll, as caucusgoers winced over a series of her verbal gaffes. By the latest Iowa Poll, likely caucusgoers rated her the least knowledgeable in the field.

During the final push, Bachmann defiantly ignored signs of trouble, smiling through interviews about her dismal poll numbers and last week’s defection of her Iowa chairman to Paul’s campaign.

Like Perry, she plans to bypass New Hampshire to see whether she can boost her prospects in South Carolina.

Huntsman didn’t compete in Iowa, deciding to focus his campaign on New Hampshire.

{Iowa Press Citizen/ Newscenter}


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