Nation/World


Romney, Santorum locked in virtual tie

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 4, 2012

‘Game on,’ says former Pennsylvania senator as candidates turn next to New Hampshire

DES MOINES, Iowa – Iowa Republicans split closely between Mitt Romney and upstart Rick Santorum on Tuesday, launching a contentious battle for the right to challenge Democratic President Barack Obama in the fall.

With more than 99 percent of the votes counted, Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, and Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, each had 25 percent. Early today, the state party chairman said Romney edged eight votes ahead of Santorum, 30,015 votes to 30,007 votes.

“Game on,” declared Santorum, after outdistancing several other contenders to emerge as a conservative alternative to Romney in the primaries yet ahead.

Rep. Ron Paul of Texas was a close third, with 21 percent. Trailing in the second tier were former House Speaker Newt Gingrich in fourth place, Texas Gov. Rick Perry in fifth and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota in sixth.

Perry announced that he’ll return to Texas to assess his campaign, likely a step toward dropping out. Bachmann’s campaign also appeared on life support.

Iowans rendered their judgment in caucus meetings at churches, schools and firehouses on a cold, clear evening, a quadrennial showcase of democracy that often winnows the field of candidates while sending top finishers off to the rest of the country. Turnout was close to the record 118,000 who showed up in 2008.

Both Romney and Santorum looked ahead with reason for optimism – and challenges to their hopes.

Romney emerged in a strong position thanks in part to the relative weakness of his top rivals going forward.

Paul told supporters Tuesday evening that he’s the only other candidate who can wage a national campaign. “We’re going to keep scoring,” he said. But his isolationist foreign policy makes it very unlikely he could win the nomination. Moreover, Iowans did not rally to either Gingrich or Perry.

Yet Romney still faces questions from conservatives – despite four years of work, he could not increase his share of the Iowa vote from 2008. And his barrage of negative ads against Gingrich is drawing rage from Gingrich, who vowed to fight back starting today.

Santorum managed to finish strong thanks to a long, face-to-face campaign in Iowa, and he could rally support as the conservative alternative to Romney. “Thank you so much Iowa,” he said late Tuesday.

But Santorum lacks money and organization in later voting states. He did not, for example, make the primary ballot in Virginia. And his evangelical base is less influential in other states than in Iowa.

The campaign races next to the East Coast for a rapid-fire series of contests that might be called the Interstate 95 primary, with primary elections in New Hampshire on Jan. 10, in South Carolina on Jan. 21, and in Florida on Jan. 31.

Romney dominates in New Hampshire polls, so much so that anything less than a landslide win by him there could be seen as a setback.

New Hampshire is more liberal than Iowa, much less interested in social issues than the Hawkeye State, and much more challenging to social conservatives. It’s also very familiar with Romney, who has a summer home there and governed next door. He leads by a better than 2-to-1 margin over Paul and nearly 3-to-1 over Gingrich.

Gingrich and Paul both will challenge Romney on his home turf. Gingrich arrives in New Hampshire this morning and vows to hammer Romney as a closet liberal.

After watching his lead in Iowa be crushed by a torrent of negative ads from Romney and an independent pro-Romney group – as well as other rivals and news media commentators – Gingrich is vowing to hit back hard.

He lashed out at Romney in remarks to supporters Tuesday night, calling Romney a “Massachusetts moderate who will be pretty good at managing the decay” in Washington rather than reverse it.

Santorum also heads to New Hampshire today, eager to prove that his late surge into the top tier in Iowa was not an isolated event because of his long campaigning there. He visited all 99 Iowa counties.

He also aims to prove he has broader appeal beyond the Christian conservatives in Iowa who helped propel him toward the top. Mike Huckabee did the same thing after winning Iowa four years ago – but finished a distant third in New Hampshire to moderates John McCain and Romney and never recovered.

“It’s a long road,” Romney said Tuesday before the caucuses. “I’ll have a target painted on me, and so I expect other folks to come after me. … And, you know, if I can’t stand up to that, I shouldn’t be the nominee.”

South Carolina, though, could become the pivotal battleground, the next place where all the remaining candidates compete.


 

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