The opening contest in the Republican presidential race ended in a near tie between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, complicating the party’s attempt to anoint a consensus candidate as the quest for the nomination moves to New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and business executive, defeated Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, by just eight votes out of more than 122,000 cast in yesterday’s Iowa caucuses, state Republican Party chairman Matt Strawn announced early today. Romney received 30,015 votes to 30,007 for Santorum, giving each a little less than 25 percent of the vote.
Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann, who placed sixth in the caucus voting, said today she is ending her presidential bid. Texas Governor Rick Perry, the fifth-place finisher, said on Twitter today that he is heading to South Carolina, the contest after next week’s New Hampshire primary.
After devoting less attention to Iowa than most opponents for much of the past year, Romney failed to achieve the decisive victory he sought in the closing days of the caucus campaign. Santorum made up for having the fewest resources of any of Romney’s rivals by campaigning in all of Iowa’s 99 counties in a pickup truck.
Santorum, who emphasized his commitment to social conservative causes, made a late surge and managed to sidetrack Romney’s chances of a quick knockout in the nomination race.
U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas, who stresses libertarian and pro-states’ rights positions, ran third with about 21 percent of the vote, according to a tally by the Associated Press. He was about 3,800 votes behind Romney and Santorum.
The top trio were followed by former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich with 13 percent, Perry with 10 percent and Bachmann with 5 percent. Gingrich has pledged to continue his campaign.
The results revealed a divided party, still undecided over whether to compromise fiscal and social conservative ideology for a candidate -- Romney -- who polls show is better positioned to attract the independent voters needed to beat President Barack Obama in the 2012 general election.
“Thank you so much, Iowa,” Santorum told supporters in Iowa early today before the final result was known. “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.”
Romney, 64, congratulated Santorum, 53, and Paul, 76, in his comments to Iowa supporters, also before the last votes were counted.
“Congratulations to Rick Santorum, this has been a great victory for him,” he told supporters. “We also feel it’s been a great victory for us here.”
“Ron Paul has had a great night,” he continued. “All three of us will be campaigning very hard to make sure that we restore the heart and soul of the entire nation.”
Romney got close to the same number of votes he received in his failed 2008 bid for the Republican nomination. In that race, he was backed by 29,949 voters.
Romney lost the caucuses four years ago to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who was able to consolidate the support of evangelical Christians, a major force in the state’s Republican Party.
Senator John McCain of Arizona won the 2008 Republican nomination. McCain is set to endorse Romney today, according to a person with knowledge of the announcement.
While not a clear-cut victory for Romney, the Iowa results mean that two of his main opponents in New Hampshire’s Jan. 10 primary will be men who face doubts among many Republicans that they would be strong general-election candidates, polling shows. Santorum and Paul also must show they can mobilize widespread support in primary contests, where turnout is much larger than in a caucus.
Romney, though, will face a challenge for the more moderate voters in the New Hampshire race from Jon Huntsman Jr. The former Utah governor skipped Iowa and has focused his campaign on New Hampshire; he held his 150th event in the state yesterday.
No Republican who has won both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary has failed to become the party’s presidential candidate.
In his Iowa remarks, Romney attempted to play down the results by stressing the more minimal effort he made in Iowa this year.
“When I ran four years ago we had 42 members of our full-time staff,” he said. “This time we had five.”
Romney, who owns a New Hampshire vacation home and is well-known to its voters from his time as governor of neighboring Massachusetts and his failed 2008 presidential bid, heads to the state having consistently led in polls of likely primary voters. He was backed by 43 percent in a Suffolk University/7NEWS two-day tracking poll of likely voters in the New Hampshire primary released yesterday, while Santorum was at 5 percent.
Paul was second in the poll, with 16 percent, while Huntsman was third with 10 percent.
The New Hampshire contest is followed by primaries on Jan. 21 in South Carolina and Florida on Jan. 31.
Younger Independent Voters
Paul’s third-place finish in Iowa followed his prediction late last week that he would finish first or second. He was boosted by youthful and independent-minded voters drawn to his antiwar message.
In his speech to Iowa supporters last night, Paul argued that he was among the three winners in the state.
“We will go on,” he said. “We will raise the money. I have no doubt about the volunteers. They are going to be there.”
Gingrich, speaking to Iowa supporters last night as it became clear Santorum was vying for the lead, congratulated the former Pennsylvania senator for waging a “great, positive campaign” and added that he wished he could say that for “all of the candidates.”
Gingrich was targeted by millions of dollars of negative advertising in Iowa, much of it financed by Paul’s campaign and a political action committee supporting Romney.
Won’t Go Negative
In an interview this morning on CNBC, Gingrich said he wouldn’t respond to that barrage with attack ads against Romney.
“There’s a difference between laying out a comparison and taking my position on issues versus his on issues -- which is totally telling the truth -- and going negative,” he said. He noted that his campaign had taken out a full-page ad today in New Hampshire’s largest newspaper, the Union Leader, spelling out what he called the “really big gaps in our policies.”
“I’m not suggesting running ads that defame him or attack him or distort his record,” he said. “If you can’t survive an honest statement of your record, maybe you shouldn’t be running.”
Before leaving Iowa for New Hampshire, Gingrich told his supporters: “There will be a great debate in the Republican Party before we are prepared to have a great debate with Barack Obama.”
Republicans must decide whether they want someone who can change Washington, or a “Massachusetts moderate who in fact will be pretty good at managing the decay,” he said.
Romney has “given no evidence” during his time as governor of “any ability to change the culture or change the political structure,” Gingrich said.
In New Hampshire, the candidates will face off in two debates, one on Jan. 7 and the next on Jan. 8.
The proportion of evangelical voters who participated in the caucuses was roughly similar to four years ago, according to entrance polling. Almost 6 in 10 voters consider themselves evangelical or born-again Christians, the polling showed.
Santorum won just less than a third of that group’s vote, the most of any candidate, helping fuel his surge in the days leading up to the voting.
Caucus participants were also younger and more independent than four years ago, as Paul drew in college students opposed to U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Almost two-thirds of the voters said they support the Tea Party movement, according to the polling conducted by Edison Research for the National Election Pool of television networks and the Associated Press.
Looking Beyond Iowa
Even before the results were announced, Romney was looking past Iowa. His campaign said yesterday it was planning to start advertising in Florida, as it sought to display his national reach and fundraising strength.
The campaign in Iowa demonstrated the power of money spent by so-called super PACs. Of the estimated $5.8 million spent on television advertising through Dec. 30, $3.7 million financed negative ads, according to the most recent data available from New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, a company that tracks advertising. Most of those spots were aimed at Gingrich.
The turnout of more than 122,000 voters for this year’s Republican caucuses exceeded the turnout of less than 120,000 in the contest four years ago.
Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans in voter registration in Iowa, while independents outnumber both parties. Four years ago, then-Senator Obama of Illinois defeated then-Senator Hillary Clinton of New York in the Democratic caucuses, a victory that propelled him toward the White House amid turnout that was roughly twice as large as what Republicans saw yesterday. He faced no challenge in the Democratic caucuses last night.