After Iowa, it's still a long road to the nomination

The Romney/Gingrich battle gets personal as the circus moves on. By David Usborne in Perry, Iowa

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The Independent Online

The circus that is the Republican nomination contest will already have decamped from Iowa by dawn this morning sending candidates, variously bruised and boosted by last night's caucus results, to prepare for the next rounds of battle first in New Hampshire next Tuesday and then 10 days later in South Carolina.

For all the hullabaloo in Iowa, the reality will now set in even for the strongest of the runners that the road to one of them winning enough delegates to claim the nomination at the Republican convention this summer and thereafter to take on Barack Obama is still likely to be long and arduous.

"No one will have the required number of delegates until April or May," Eric Fernstrom, a top adviser to Mitt Romney predicted on the sidelines of one of the former governor's last Iowa rallies yesterday. "We think we'll do well, but I'm not going to make predictions. At the end of the day, we think Mitt Romney will have the number of delegates he needs to be the nominee."

Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas, who held one of his last Iowa rallies in the namesake town of Perry north-west of Des Moines, was said last night to be flying directly to South Carolina in a sign that he has all but given up hope of challenging Mr Romney in New Hampshire.

With deep pockets, the governor used all the bells and whistles in his Perry rally to impress wavering Iowans. There was cowboy music, Texan veterans from Afghanistan and glowing introductions from the governors of Louisiana and Kansas. Most of the 200 or so who attended left seemingly impressed.

"This has helped me to make a decision a lot," said Tony Sweet, 53, a meatpacker who was set to attend a caucus meeting last night. But as for Mr Perry's chances, he still had doubts. "I think one of the things working against him is just that he is another governor from Texas and the whole Bush legacy," he said.

Newt Gingrich vowed to fight aggressively in New Hampshire to distinguish himself as a true conservative versus the "Massachusetts moderate" he calls Mr Romney. Even before Iowans gathered to make their choices, Gingrich flatly accused Romney of lying about his record.

After saying that Mr Romney need to "just level with the American people" about his real views, Mr Gingrich was asked by a TV moderator if he was calling the former governor a "liar", to which he replied, "Yes". He added: "Let's have a debate between a Massachusetts moderate and a real conservative."

Michele Bachmann spent yesterday batting away speculation that she might soon drop out. "We're moving forward," she said, adding that Iowa was only her "opening chapter" .

Under special scrutiny also over the coming days will be Jon Huntsman, the Governor of Utah, who did not compete in Iowa and is counting on a decent showing in New Hampshire to keep his candidacy alive. Playing down Iowa, he noted last night that "we will look at the results and remember them for about seven hours".