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Romney wins Iowa by 8 votes

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DES MOINES - White House hopeful Mitt Romney squeezed out an eight-vote lead to win the Iowa GOP caucus on Tuesday, with Rick Santorum riding a late breaking surge to come in second.

Ron Paul claimed third in the first-in-the-nation presidential vote.

Romney, with 30,015 votes and Santorum with 30,007 each had 25 percent; Paul, with 26,219 votes ended up at 21 percent. Newt Gingrich had 13 percent, with 16,251 votes.

Rick Perry had 12,604 votes, or 10 percent; with the bottom rungs held by Michele Bachmann with 6,073, or 5 percent and Jon Huntsman with 745 votes or 1 percent.


DES MOINES -- The Iowa caucus became a three-way race Tuesday night, with the first-in-the-nation presidential vote finding three contenders bunched together at the top: Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.

Incomplete returns put Santorum and Romney in a tie with 25 percent of the vote each with Paul at 21 percent.

Paul said the Iowa caucus yielded "essentially three winners, three top vote getters."

Romney, 64, the former Massachusetts governor who once was considered a moderate, never expected to be competitive in the state, where evangelical voters are influential -- turning out Tuesday in high numbers, according to entrance polls.

In the last two weeks, Romney's fortunes brightened considerably when chief rival former House Speaker Newt Gingrich found his sudden surge stopped with a blitz of negative ads. Romney friendly "SuperPacs," political groups operating under new rules for the first time this cycle, poured money into spots hitting Gingrich.

Gingrich, propelled to the top for a time by strong debate performances, never recovered from the attacks. While Romney never claimed a clear, sustained lead, he ran a cautious campaign basically free of mistakes.

As the campaigning intensified, none of Romney's rivals surfaced as the consensus conservative alternative to Romney, giving him a big break.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry -- who at one time worried the Romney team -- was weakened from the start by poor debate performances. Perry, coming in fifth, said he is considering dropping out. He said he will return to Texas and "determine whether there is a path forward" in the race.

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), an Iowa native, could not break through, also hobbled by weak debates.

Paul, 76, a Libertarian-leaning House member from Texas who made personal "liberty" a centerpiece of his bid, found backing from a youthful generation of voters who made his name one of the hottest searches on the Internet.

Santorum, 53, a former Pennsylvania senator, ran a comparatively shoestring campaign casting himself as a consistent conservative. His Iowa campaign was notable for its retail strategy: he spent more days in Iowa than any of his competitors.

The GOP race for the nomination jumps to New Hampshire, where the primary is Jan. 10 with debates set for Jan. 7 and 8.

South Carolina, turf fertile with social conservative and evangelical Republicans, has a Jan. 21 primary, with Florida's primary on Jan. 31.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman skipped Iowa instead focusing on New Hampshire, a state where the primary will contain more moderate GOP and independent voters -- where every poll has given Romney a decisive lead.

The Romney team, while not winning Iowa outright, nonetheless found considerable comfort in Romney's performance.

"The biggest surprise was that events came together," said one Romney adviser. Romney, however may be disappointed in that he ran in Iowa just about the same as he did in 2008 -- with the intervening years doing nothing to grow his percentage here.

Paul and Romney competed in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, losing to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Romney came in second with 25 percent of the vote and Paul ran fifth in 2008. But Huckabee soon faded and Sen. John McCain claimed the nomination.

Romney's team is optimistic because they have the strongest national operation. Gingrich and Perry failed to even make the primary ballot in Virginia; Paul and Santorum have limited financial resources.

Romney started running ads in Florida on Tuesday.

"This goes to the strength of Mitt Romney's organization, putting Iowa aside," said Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom. "We are running ads in three states, New Hampshire, South Carolina and now Florida."

The Sun-Times has learned that Romney will be in Florida on Jan. 12 to start his push in a state with a more diverse GOP electorate. Romney has a high-end fund-raiser at the Palm Beach home of business tycoon Steve Ross and his wife, Kara, with donations ranging from $2,500 to $50,000 to co-host the event.

Gingrich, who came in fourth with about 13 percent, praised Santorum for waging a "great, positive, campaign" while blasting Paul. "The fact is his views on foreign policy I think are stunningly dangerous for the survival of the United States."

Four years ago, President Barack Obama's battle for the Democratic nomination was considerably bolstered by his victory over Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards in Iowa. While Obama faces no challenge for re-nomination, his team has been organizing in Iowa -- a November battleground state -- for months.

On Tuesday evening, Obama traveled to a Washington, D.C., hotel for a teleconference for Iowa Democratic caucus-goers, intended to rev up the troops for the fall fight ahead.

Obama, reminiscing about Iowa said, "We actually were just remembering the incredible energy and excitement and the spirit of common purpose that those Iowa caucuses represent. It was an example of how the campaign was not about one person, but it was about all of us coming together to try to deliver the kind of change that had been talked about a long time in Washington, but all too often hadn't been delivered on."

All the Republicans blistered Obama during the run-up to the caucus. On Tuesday, just before the 7 p.m. opening of the caucus sessions around the state, Gingrich said, "This is not a time for another amateur. We've had three years of an amateur."

Bachmann accused Obama of "socialism," telling voters Obama "continues to treat us as if we are a third world banana republic." Speculation was rampant Tuesday over whether Bachmann would drop out or limp through more contests.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on January 3, 2012 11:19 PM.

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