Photo Finish in Iowa Caucuses - Just a Handful of Votes Separates Romney and Santorum for Victory in Iowa
Tonight, the first salvo in the war for the 2012 Republican Presidential Nomination was fired in the midwest state of Iowa between seven candidates who, by most accounts, are a very lackluster Republican field, and for whom the only thing they have going for them is that President Barack Obama is failing to shine worse than they are. As an interesting tidbit, the Iowa caucuses tonight came down to an historical photo finish between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney. The 1936 South Dakota primary was previously the closest primary-season vote in United States history, but that was broken tonight as just a handful of votes separated first and second place tonight - just 8 votes, to be exact! No one in Iowa can claim that a single vote doesn't matter anymore! Let's meet the candidates, in the order that they finished in the Iowa caucuses (vote totals are the final numbers from CNN as of 12:40am on January 4th):
First place: Mitt Romney - 30,015 votes
The former governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney is also a former business leader and private sector guru and 2002 Winter Olympics organizer. Romney may well be considered the front-runner for the Republican nomination, Iowa's caucuses notwithstanding. However, he faces uphill battles as a Mormon (as it is uncertain how the Christian coalition would coalesce around him as a nominee) and has a reputation as a "flip-flopper." As Governor of a liberal state from 2003-2007, Romney passed a version of a single-payer healthcare system, then in 2011, began to criticize "ObamaCare," the very similar healthcare law passed by the Obama administration. Nonetheless, without a strong showing by Ron Paul in New Hampshire and South Carolina and the continuation of Santorum's current success, Romney is likely still the presumptive nominee for the GOP.
Second place: Rick Santorum - 30,007 votes
A former Senator from Pennsylvania who served two terms, he is well-known for hyper-Christian stances on social issues, from arguing for the teaching of intelligent design in public schools to extremely strict views on gay rights and marriage issues. Santorum was projected to do well in Iowa, where his Evangelical Christian viewpoints play well in the Bible Belt middle of the state. The question for him remains whether or not the rest of the country can get behind a candidate who projects no affability on economic issues or foreign policy issues. If this election cycle were about social issues, Santorum would be more noticeable a candidate, but in a race about the economy, I foresee Santorum being shifted to the side when the real primary races get going.
Third place: Ron Paul - 26,219 votes
Ron Paul is the representative for the 14th Congressional District of Texas in the US House of Representatives, and is known as a hyperconservative (to the point of being a Libertarian) candidate on pretty much every issue. Paul is a fan of diminishing the influence of the US government, getting rid of government agencies, returning to the gold standard for the economy, pulling US troops out of bases around the world, advocating a policy of US isolationism, and other things that might sound nice to Tea Party folks but which would never actually happen if he were to become president. Despite a healthy and well-oiled grassroots machine to help him, Paul is generally viewed as too extreme to actually win against Obama in a general election. It remains to be seen if his supporters (generally younger voters) would actually turn out to support him in the remaining primaries.
Fourth place: Newt Gingrich - 16,251 votes
Gingrich was the former Speaker of the US House of Representatives in the 1990s, and has worked closely with Congress as a consultant in the years since. Famed mostly for his "Contract with America" in 1994, Gingrich is a candidate who carries a lot of baggage. On social issues he has little solid ground to stand on, having been divorced three times and having had an affair with a House staffer as Speaker. On fiscal issues, Gingrich is extremely knowledgeable, but his brash personality and his routine tongue-lashings of the media and the other candidates makes him a toxic person to face off against Obama in a general election.
Fifth place: Rick Perry - 12,604 votes
The current Governor of the State of Texas, Perry is a George Bush-esque neoconservative who might have had a chance at putting up a fight against Mitt Romney in the primaries if not for a series of mistakes in debate performances, the most famous of which being the 53-second mangling of his attempt to remember the names of three government agencies culminating in the now-epic "Oops" moment that seems to have overrun his entire message. Tonight, instead of heading to South Carolina as planned after coming in 5th place in Iowa, Perry announced that he would be heading to Texas instead to "re-evaluate" his campaign. Generally, this has been taken by the reporters covering Iowa as the first step toward Perry's announcement that he will be withdrawing from the campaign trail.
Sixth place: Michelle Bachmann - 6,073 votes
Congresswoman Bachmann from the 6th District of Minnesota garnered only about 5% of the vote from Iowa, a surprisingly low vote total for her campaign. She is a staunch Tea Party member, having founded the Tea Party Coalition in the House of Representatives in 2010. She is viewed currently as extremely likely to be the next to drop out of the race after the poor showing tonight.
Seventh place: Jon Huntsman - 745 votes
Huntsman, the former Ambassador to China, did not campaign in Iowa at all in favor of heading straight to New Hampshire to prepare there. He garnered under 800 votes tonight, and while he is perhaps the most levelheaded conservative candidate, he is not viewed as a real contender. He would need a heck of a strong showing in New Hampshire to have any hope of keeping his campaign alive.