Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney narrowly beat former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum to win the Iowa caucuses, the first Republican presidential race, Tuesday night.
It was the closest election ever for the state, with two in dead heat most of the night, separated at one stage by only one vote. In the end they finished eight votes apart.
But Iowa is not known to choose right. It winnows down the race, which it did true to form. After coming fifth, Texas governor Rick Perry announced he is headed home to reassess his candidature.It also looked like the end of the road for Minnesota representative Michele Bachmann, who came in last, getting only 6 % of about 122,000 votes polled at the caucuses (only registered Republicans vote).
But she was hanging in there, saying she is ready for the rest.
Next is New Hampshire, where Romney has built up an unassailable lead in polls. He is expected to win there, but the fight is likely to get tough now. Santorum served a notice Tuesday night saying in an interview, “If you think I only concentrated on Iowa check again — I have been to New Hampshire 30 times already.”
And former speaker Newt Gingrich, who came a distant fourth, behind Texas representative Ron Paul, is going to New Hampshire an angry man waiting to rip into Romney for all the negative ads the latter ran against him. But Tuesday night was all about Santorum, who had so far struggled to get attention — he was ignored during debates, and was rarely hounded for media interviews.
But he had a plan. And it worked. Just a few days to the Iowa caucuses, he began surging in polls, which ended nicely in a stunning victory Tuesday night.
Santorum, it turned out, had hit the road, campaigning, it was said, the traditional way. He visited each of Iowa’s 99 counties and attended 381 town hall meetings. And 36 Pizza Ranch stops. Not good for the waistline, he joked.
But it had been worth it. The win will get much needed funds and supports, both of which he had lacked so far. But he had turned both of which into an opportunity. Instead of the long campaign buses favoured by US politicians, Santorum crisscrossed the state on pick-up truck, which and other traits have got him dubbed the “Budweiser Republican”.
But the Tuesday night caucuses were also expected to reveal the measure of enthusiasm in the Republican party to vote out President Barack Obama. The turnout was not much more than in 2008.