You are currently viewing the printable version of this article, to return to the normal page, please click here.

Romney edges Santorum in historic Iowa caucuses

Paul finishes 3rd; candidates set to move on to New Hampshire

Question of the Day

Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

View results

DES MOINES, Iowa — Winning the closest caucus in Iowa's history, Mitt Romney edged Rick Santorum by just eight votes Tuesday night as Republican voters kicked off the 2012 campaign by sending a signal to Mr. Romney that his path to the nomination could be difficult.

With all precincts finally reporting early Wednesday morning Mr. Romney had 30,015 votes to Mr. Santorum's 30,007. Rep. Ron Paul trailed in third place with 26,219. Together, they constituted a clear top tier of the field, easily outdistancing the other major candidates who competed here.

"Thank you so much, Iowa," Mr. Santorum said about 11:20 p.m. in Johnston, Iowa, with the race still uncalled. "You, you, by standing up and not compromising, by standing up and being bold and leading, leading with that burden and responsibility you have to be first, you have taken the first step of taking back this country."

Most worrisome for Mr. Romney, the candidate with the deepest pockets and most extensive campaign, is that despite winning, he actually garnered fewer votes this year than he did in 2008, when he came in second to Mike Huckabee — a blow that helped doom his campaign that year. That year he won 30,021 votes, 14 more than this year, signaling his support here has stagnated despite four more years of campaigning.

Still, he was upbeat as he addressed voters just before midnight in Des Moines.

"We also feel it's been a great victory for us," Mr. Romney said, showering praise on Mr. Santorum and Mr. Paul and then immediately pivoting to criticize President Obama.

And the night may have narrowed the field, with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who placed fifth, saying he will take time off to rethink his bid.

"With the voters' decision tonight in Iowa, I've decided to return to Texas, assess the results of tonight's caucus," he said.

Mr. Santorum and Mr. Paul both turned in surprising performances — the former drawing on self-described pro-life and social conservative voters, while the latter attracted independents and self-described moderates and liberals.

"Once again, we've had a fantastic showing for this cause," Mr. Paul said at his post-caucus party, saying he has injected his foreign policy and Constitutional liberty ideas into the GOP's debate.

"Tonight we have come out of an election — there are essentially three winners, three top vote getters. We will go on, we will raise the money. I have no doubt about the volunteers, they're going to be there."

Iowa's vote amounts to a straw poll. Actual delegates to the nominating convention are decided later this year. But it does serve as the kick-off to the campaign season, and it held bad news for Mr. Romney, who found the traditionally conservative primary base of the GOP questioning his commitment to their issues.

The 2012 nomination battle has been dominated by those voters' search for a non-Romney candidate to rally around, and Tuesday's results will make Mr. Santorum and to a lesser extent Mr. Paul the likely candidates.

Rounding out the standings in the partial returns were former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in fourth, Mr. Perry in fifth and Rep. Michele Bachmann in sixth. All three of them had led in the polls here at one time.

Mr. Gingrich vowed to continue his campaign into New Hampshire, while Mrs. Bachmann previously had said she would head to South Carolina.

"There are many more chapters to be written on the path to our party's nomination," Mrs. Bachmann.

She failed to win a single county, including Black Hawk County, where she was born, but where she didn't even make it into the top four.

Mr. Gingrich also failed to win a county, while Mr. Perry won two counties.

Mr. Gingrich had challenged voters to reject negative attack ads by supporting him, and on Tuesday he praised Mr. Santorum for running a positive, strong campaign.

"I wish I could say that for all the candidates," Mr. Gingrich said.

But just moments after praising positive campaigning, Mr. Gingrich attacked other candidates by name — particularly Mr. Paul, who he said would be a dangerous president because of his foreign policy views, and Mr. Romney, who he called a "Massachusetts moderate" unable to change the political culture.

"We are not going to go out and run nasty ads. We are not going to go out and run 30-second gotchas," he said. "But I do reserve the right to tell the truth. And if the truth seems negative that may be more a comment on his record."

Democrats also held caucuses Tuesday night and backed the unopposed Mr. Obama as their nominee.

Addressing the caucuses by video, Mr. Obama rejected Republicans' charge that his first term has been a failure.

"The main message that we're going to have in 2012 is that we've done a lot, but we've got a lot more to do, and that's why we need another four years to get it all done," he said.

Fear of Mr. Obama winning another term was a chief motivating factor for Republicans.

"I'm afraid the country's going in the wrong direction — there's no leadership. I'm very worried about the economy," said Donna Lilley, 69, caucusing in Waukee, just west of Des Moines.

Polling the major news networks conducted of people heading into the caucuses showed 31 percent said ability to defeat the president was the most important quality they were seeking in a candidate. Mr. Romney was the clear choice of those voters, garnering nearly half of them.

Voters here said this has been the most free-wheeling caucus in GOP history, and over the past week the campaign has been nothing short of astonishing. Mr. Perry reportedly choked up while talking to voters Tuesday, Mr. Gingrich actually began to weep last week when remembering his mother, and Mr. Romney told supporters he wouldn't cry — but added that it was OK to do so.

Mr. Paul continued to pack rooms with supporters, though many of them were out-of-staters who flew or drove in to spread the maverick candidate's gospel of limited government and a retrenchment of America's military.

All told, the candidates made 914 different appearances to meet with voters, according to the Des Moines Register's tally, which gave Mr. Santorum the top spot at 312 events. For his part, Mr. Santorum says he actually held 381 town halls — some of them stretching for up to two hours as he fielded questions.

That strategy didn't seem to be paying off until late in the race, when Mr. Santorum saw a stunning surge of support in the final 10 days. Voters leaving an event in Marshalltown last week said they were going home to rip their Perry signs off their yard and replace them with Santorum signs.

Still to be seen is which candidates can compete as the campaign expands into multiple states. New Hampshire holds its primary Tuesday, South Carolina holds its primary Jan. 21, and Florida holds its primary Jan. 31.

In the first week of February, Nevada, Maine, Colorado and Minnesota hold caucuses, and Missouri holds a nonbinding primary, and then Arizona and Michigan hold primaries Feb. 28.

In a move that underscores his deep pockets and broad organization, Mr. Romney on Tuesday released an ad to run in Florida. He also announced he will shuttle back and forth between New Hampshire and South Carolina later this week to keep a presence in both states.

Paige Winfield Cunningham reported from Manilla, Iowa, and Susan Crabtree reported from Waukee, Iowa.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Comments
blog comments powered by Disqus
TWT Video Picks