Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney squeaked past the surging candidacy of Rick Santorum to win the Iowa Caucus by a handful of votes.
The vote was so close, the race between Romney and the former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania remained a dead heat until around 3 a.m., with each candidate getting 25 percent of the vote. That percentage still hasn’t changed, but Romney finally collected 30,015 to Santorum’s 30,007, a margin of eight votes.
Texas Congressman Ron Paul came in third with 26,219 votes, or 21 percent of the 120,000-plus total.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who was leading the polls just a few weeks ago, got 16,251 votes – 13 percent. The tallies for the remaining candidates are: Tex. Gov. Rick Perry, 10 percent with 12,604 votes; U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann, 5 percent, with 6,073; Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Buddy Roemer and Herman Cain, who has dropped out of the race, each collected 1 percent.
Wednesday morning, less than eight hours after of the final results were posted, Bachman announced that she was withdrawing from the race, but vowed to continue fighting for the policies she campaigned on.
Tuesday night, when Santorum was still tied with Romney, he considered his meteoric rise a victory. “We will work together to get America back to work,” he said.
“I love Iowa but the fare can be a little bit thickening,” he said referring to a weight gain.
Later, at the Romney celebration, Romney appeared cheerful and pleased at the turn of events in Iowa. He congratulated his fellow contenders, Santorum and Paul for their strong finishes in the caucus.
The goal of this election, Romney said, is to restore the “heart and soul of this nation” and to bring back the “visions” of the founding fathers. In order to accomplish these goals, Romney said he is determined to win the presidency and repeal much of the legislation the Obama Administration shepherded through the U.S. Congress.
“The question,” he said, “is are we going to hue to the vision of the founders when they crafted this country and created the Declaration of Independence?”
He vowed to cut federal programs if elected and to examine each with one question in mind.
“Is that program so invaluable that it is worth going into debt to China for? On that basis, we’re going to have a lot of programs we need to get rid of. The first to go would be Obamacare,” he said.
With Romney’s and Paul’s vote totals fairly close to what the polls have been predicting in recent weeks, Santorum’s success was clearly the surprise of the campaign.
About two weeks ago, Santorum’s polling numbers were in the single digits. But with collapse of Gingrich’s surge, which started after Herman Cain dropped from the race, Santorum shot ahead of him. But even then, the Des Moines Register’s latest poll, conducted about a week ago, placed him in third place with 15 percent trailing Romney and Paul. A win in Iowa has historically helped candidates gain momentum nationwide during the primary season, up until a party nominee is determined, or prompted them to drop from the race.
But winner of the Republican caucus seldom gets elected president, with George W. Bush being one of the few.
Of the candidates competing in Iowa, only Perry ended the night leaving uncertainty as to whether he would take his campaign into the next two contests – New Hampshire and South Carolina. He said he is returning to Texas to assess the results and then to determine the best path for his campaign. But shortly before noon on Wednesday, he announced he would continue the race.
He said being the president of the U.S. was never an “ambition” of his but instead a way to serve his country again, a country that he believes is in trouble.
As the race tightened up in the last several days, the campaign rhetoric grew sharper. When the contest entered its final hours Tuesday, the candidates were holding little back.
Gingrich started the day calling Romney a liar; Santorum described Paul as“disgusting” in a talk with Fox News Reporters, and Paul called Santorum “liberal,” which in the world of far-right conservatism is seen as worse than disgusting.
Gingrich charged that Romney was lying when the former Massachusetts governor denied having any connection to a super political action committee that launched a blistering negative adversiting campaign against Gingrich in recent weeks. And Santorum, who is staunchly opposed to abortion rights, was referring to his belief that the Paul campaign was behind some anonymous phone calls saying Santorum favored abortion.
In many ways, the closing day anger was more exciting than the Occupy Movement, which had been busy for days conducting protests throughout Des Moines, prompting police to arrest dozens. But Tuesday, they were virtually absent throughout the day, making a late evening protest at the Romney celebration after vote count was over.
“If we were to disrupt the caucus itself, it would make the criticisms of our opponents more legitimate and it would weaken the victories that we had this week,” said Aaron Jorgensen-Briggs earlier today at the Occupy Des Moines Headquarters.
To read more about the Occupy Movement during the Republican caucus click here.
With the New Hampshire primary vote just one week away, the candidates were already looking toward the Granite State Tuesday night.
Within a few minutes after vote count was complete, Paul left no doubt that he felt the Iowa results were all he needed to carry him into New Hampshire. He said his positions for restoring the gold standard, reducing the government’s role in society and on ending American involvement in Afghanistan are supported by the majority of the people.
“These issues are not going to go away,” he said at his state campaign office in Ankeny. “The momentum is continuing, and this movement is going to continue.”
And Gingrich, despite his 13-percent vote, said, “We are at the beginning of an extraordinarily important campaign.”
He also congratulated Santorum, while taking another swipe at Romney. “He waged a great and positive campaign,” he said, referring to Santorum. “I wish I could say that for all the candidates,” he added.
Gingrich, who has praised Santorum several times in the campaign, said he admired what he described as the courage and discipline that Santorum displayed on the campaign trail in Iowa over the past several months.
And Santorum announced even before the voting started Tuesday that he would be New Hampshire Wednesday speaking at 7 p.m. at the Rockingham County Nursing Home in Brentwood.
Those types of venues marked Santorum’s style of retail politics in Iowa, where he often appeared in small restaurants and coffee shops and at supporters’ homes with only few people in attendance. He campaigned in all of Iowa’s 99 counties.
In the political realm, Romney has earned a reputation of frequently changing his position on major issues, such as abortion, gay rights and healthcare. Many GOP candidates attacked Romney in recent debates for supporting a healthcare plan in Massachusetts that was very similar to the Affordable Health Care Act put forth by Obama and passed by Congress last year.
Obama has repeatedly said he modeled the act on Romney healthcare plan in Massachusetts.
“I think it is a good model for other states,” Romney said on Meet The Press in 2008. “So what I’d do, at the federal level, is give to every state the same kind of flexibility we [Massachusetts] got from the government.”
He also said that it was a “terrific idea” for a state to require people to have health insurance, which is another element of the new federal health care law.
The presidential hopeful has since retracted those sentiments. On his website Romney said, “Our next president must repeal Obamacare and replace it with market-based reforms that empower states and individuals and reduce health care costs.”
Ron Paul’s third place finish was lower than he had predicted.
Paul finished in fourth place during the 2008 caucus. Many considered his second place standing during the Iowa Straw Poll in August to be a statistical victory.
Paul began his career in politics as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas between 1976 to 1977. He served again from 1979 to 1985. In 1984, Paul did not run for reelection for the House but ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate. His campaign, however, was unsuccessful.
In 1988, Paul made his debut in presidential politics and ran as part of the Libertarian Party; this was another unsuccessful bid. He was elected again into the U.S. House of Representatives in 1997 and is still serving. In 2008, Paul made another attempt at the presidency but was against, unsuccessful.
(IowaWatch Staff Writers Mike Anderson and Jonathan Stefonek and IowaWatch contributor Ya-chen Chen contributed to this report)