Santorum, Romney in Iowa Dead Heat

By Paul Gable

In the closest voting in Iowa Caucus history, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum finished in a virtual dead heat last night. Romney polled 30,015 votes to Santorum’s 30,007, or 25 percent of the vote each.

Ron Paul took third place with 21 percent of the vote. Newt Gingrich limped out of Iowa in fourth place with 13 percent after leading the polls just two weeks ago.

Rick Perry polled just 10 percent for a fifth place finish and may be on the way out of the race for the nomination. Perry told his supporters he was returning to Texas to “reassess” his campaign rather than moving directly to South Carolina as had been planned.

Michelle Bachmann polled five percent of the vote and Jon Huntsman polled just under one percent. Bachmann appears set to drop out of the race later today.

Maybe the most interesting statistic of the night is that the turnout of 120,000 Republican voters was virtually the same as 2008. Republican leaders had hoped for a larger turnout on a cold, clear Iowa night that provided no weather barriers.

The big surprise of the night was Santorum who garnered a strong rise in support over the last 10 days before the voting, coming from near last place to a virtual tie for first. Much of his support came from evangelical Christians and social issue voters, the same group that gave Mike Huckabee a surprise win in Iowa four years ago.

Romney again couldn’t break through the 25 percent ceiling that has been his polling support in the early campaign season while Paul’s 21 percent was down a little from poll numbers last week. If Iowa provides three tickets to move forward, as is traditionally thought, these are the three ticket holders.

Gingrich, the target of attack ads by Romney and Paul supporters over the last two weeks, reportedly gave a rather angry departing speech to supporters. He vowed to move forward to New Hampshire and South Carolina. Coming from neighboring Georgia, South Carolina voters will likely determine Gingrich’s ultimate fate. A win or strong showing in South Carolina’s January 21st primary could keep Newt in the race. Anything less will spell his end.

With the Iowa results now in, South Carolina moves front and center in the race. Next week’s primary in New Hampshire should be a Romney win. A strong showing by Santorum in New Hampshire, not an unreasonable expectation, will solidify his position as Romney’s major contender for the nomination.

South Carolina will be important, especially to Santorum, where his appeal to evangelical Christian and socially conservative voters should play well in the state. If Santorum wins South Carolina and follows up with a strong showing in Florida, another state he should do very well in, we could see a two horse race to the end.

It also sets up an almost perfect storm as Romney has yet to really connect with the Republican social conservative base, but consistently leads polls on who is best candidate to defeat President Barack Obama. Santorum, on the other hand, plays strong with evangelical Christian conservatives, but must convince voters he can broaden his base to seriously challenge Obama.

Santorum told his supporters “game on” after the Iowa results. This is especially true for South Carolina in just over two weeks. However, he must now find a way to increase his money raising efforts if he is to go the distance in the primary campaign and will also have to withstand a significantly increased level of media scrutiny.

 

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