Mitt Romney beats Rick Santorum in Iowa caucus by just eight votes

 

Des Moines, Iowa

After months of being ignored by the pundits and pollsters, Rick Santorum, the social conservative and former US Senator from Pennsylvania, leaped to the head of the Iowa caucus vote essentially sharing victory for the night with the former Massachusetts Governor, Mitt Romney.

After a long evening of see-sawing results from caucus gatherings across the state, there was almost no daylight between Mr Santorum and Romney on a night that saw grass roots Republicans in Iowa kick off the process of caucus and primary voting that will continue state by state over the coming weeks.

With all precincts having reported Mr Romney recorded a minuscule eight-vote victory receiving 30,015 votes to 30,007 for Rick Santorum.

The pair, who stand at each end of the party’s ideological spectrum, thus ended in what was essentially a dead heat, leaving political historians to determine whether it was the closest ever in the annals of Republican presidential contests.  Both men essentially took a quarter of the Iowa Republican voters each.

First blood was drawn with fifth-placed Governor Rick Perry of Texas telling supporters he would return immediately to his home state to “assess” whether there is a path forward for him to stay in the race.   Asked to confirm that Mr Perry was in fact saying in code that he was dropping out his spokesman, Ray Sullivan, told The Independent, “not definitely, but we’re going to home to think about that.“

The removal of Perry, once thought of as potentially the most dangerous challenger to Mr Romney, would reduce this to a six-person race although many saw it already as a five-way derby as the focus moves now to the New Hampshire primary next week and after that South Carolina, because of the even poorer showing last night of Michele Bachmann, who scored less than 6 per cent of voters in Iowa.

Not to be overlooked was the muscular showing of Ron Paul, the isolationist libertarian from Texas who would abolish the Federal Reserve and return powers to the individual states.  He remains a significant power in the race having coming in a strong third last night with 21 per cent of the vote.

“This has been an incredible journey,” Mr Santorum told backers in a victory speech.  His aides last night were insisting that the former senator who has said banning abortions would be his first act as US president was now the only person able to stop the more moderate Mr Romney from winning the nomination.

Not to be ignored was Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, who placed fourth, barely respectable given that a few weeks ago he was favourite to win.  In his speech last night, he bitterly raged at Mr Romney for running a negative campaign and signalling that he will hit back in kind in the next round.

“We are not going to go out and run nasty ads, but, I do reserve the right to tell the truth,” he told long-faced backers. “If the truth seems negative that may be more a comment on his [Romney’s] record than the nature of politics.”

Mr Santorum’s radical conservative positions served him well in Iowa but will throw up obstacles in other states, including New Hampshire, where the anti-birth control, anti-gay and pro-gun messages he offers may not sell so easily.  Meanwhile John McCain, the Arizona Senator and failed Republican nominee, was expected in New Hampshire today to offer his endorsement to Mr Romney.

“This is a night when America wins. We are going to change the White House and bring America back,” Mr Romney said before leaving Iowa for New Hampshire.

In a worrying sign for the Republicans, turnout in Iowa was barely different from 2008, seemingly demonstrating a lack of enthusiasm for the field.  Mr Romney meanwhile won roughly the same number of votes in Iowa as he did at the start of his failed nomination bid four years ago, an ill omen for him. In the forty-year history of the Iowa caucuses no Republican has gone on to win the nomination with less than 26 per cent of the vote in Iowa.

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