Mitt Romney Ekes Out a Win in Iowa

Texas congressman Ron Paul comes in third as others fade.

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After all the attack ads, the millions of dollars in campaign spending, the seemingly endless debates, and the relentless stumping by the candidates in pizza parlors, town squares, and living rooms, Iowa Republicans delivered an underwhelming verdict in their presidential nominating caucuses: a dead heat between national newcomer Rick Santorum and establishment favorite Mitt Romney.

The result was essentially a tie. Romney and Santorum were deadlocked with just under 25 per cent of the vote apiece after the lead shifted back and forth many times during the night. It was not until 2:30 a.m. that the Iowa Republican Party received all the totals and announced that Romney had won with a margin of eight votes out of 120,000 cast for all candidates state-wide.

[Read The Iowa Caucuses Are Un-American.]

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas came in third with 21 percent. The congressman's libertarian views and fiery anti-government rhetoric inspired a passionate following but his anti-war views defied Republican orthodoxy. It is possible that Iowa, with its relatively small electorate and a caucus system made to order for a well-organized, enthusiastic campaign like Paul's, may have been his high-water mark.

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who finished a disappointing fifth with only 10 percent of the vote in Iowa, suspended his campaign and said he would return to Texas and reassess whether to continue.

Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and long-time venture capitalist, was the choice of the GOP establishment and many in the business community. He remains in a strong position to eventually capture the Republican nomination. But the Iowa results showed that he has a long way to go to win the approval of hard-line conservatives in his party, who consider him too moderate.

It was Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, who gained the most. The Iowa caucuses have now catapulted him into national prominence, and his fund-raising and media attention are expected to soar. As a strong social conservative, he parlayed his support among Christian conservatives and a dogged person-to-person campaign across the state into a late surge that put him over the top.

The razor-thin outcome had been predicted by several polls, so it wasn't a surprise. But it showed how divided Republicans remain and how reluctant they are to unify behind a candidate.

The Iowa results set up another important showdown in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday. Romney has been far ahead in the polls there.

But Romney has so far been unable to increase his level of support nationally beyond about 25 percent, which was where he ended up in Iowa. His biggest challenge will be to expand that percentage.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Mitt Romney.]

With the field so divided, the Republican campaign seems destined to get even more contentious as the candidates struggle for every advantage and attempt to take down the opposition.

Already, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has pledged to hit harder than ever at Romney. Gingrich argues that attack ads in Iowa sponsored by a political action committee run by Romney supporters helped push him from the top tier, and Gingrich clearly resents it. Santorum has also pledged to step up his attacks on Romney.

For their part, President Obama's campaign and the Democratic party tried to elbow their way into the GOP's big night. Obama is unopposed for his party's nomination but he made a bid for media attention by addressing the Iowa Democratic caucuses on a video conference call. Obama listed various successes of his administration, including the end of the Iraq war, enactment of health-care legislation, and making college more affordable for everyday Americans. He criticized congressional Republicans for wanting to reduce important federal regulations, including those on clean air, and wanting to "cut taxes for the wealthiest among us" while he was fighting for the middle class.

This is a theme that Obama is expected to use throughout 2012--that he defends Middle America while the Republicans protect the rich and big corporations.


Corrected on : Updated 1/04/12, 8:15 a.m. ET