Nail-biter opens Republican contest

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney with his family behind him during his caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa, on Tuesday Mitt Romney: his family are behind him, but how many Republican voters are as enthusiastic?

This was a nail-biter. One American commentator suggested we needed a new image - "tighter than a new tube sock on a cow" was his offering.

But this is not one of those elections where one vote matters, because a win by one vote is still a win, because you earn some job at the end of it. You can talk about first and second place if you like, but this was a tie. The Iowa caucus is all about perception and momentum, not fractions of percentage points.

There is no doubt this is a personal triumph for Santorum. He had worked so hard, with so little reward. But on the night it mattered the voters turned out.

If you want to be cruel you could suggest that the Santorum surge was different in only one respect to the rise of all the other "anti-Mitts". Bachmann, Perry, Cain and Newt all had their turn briefly pushing Romney into second place or chasing him hard. Santorum has just been lucky that his surge came so late that it coincided with an actual vote.

In the end this result has to be good for Romney. He's achieved this in a state he hadn't bothered to fight until the last few weeks, where he didn't have much of a campaign.

But it also underscores his problem. He can't break away from the pack. There is deep uncertainty about him among conservative voters, and a complete lack of passion or enthusiasm for him. What happens if he never has a clear-cut, open-and-shut victory?

Time and again in Iowa I spoke to committed Republicans who didn't want Mitt to be the candidate, but thought that he would end up winning, and they would grudgingly support him. Like them, I think that is what will happen. If he does win like that it is not the best way to go into a general election.

Mark Mardell, North America editor Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    So Mitt is a lame candidate before he starts. We have yet to see the Tea Party active (or reported on) in the campaign and they are the best organised caucus. Romney is the candidate most likely to defeat Obama because he is least likely to frighten the floating voters. All the rest have strange right wing quasi religious views and not a credible policy for 2012-2016 among them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Iowa and caucus do not represent who is going to vote in the election. not much of the voting public participates. A majority there is not Romney's base.

    He won or tied and he is going to win NH and he is getting the endorsement from the man most independents know they should have voted for John McCain

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Apparently Santorum who finished only 6 votes behind Romney has the backing of so-called 'born agains' and evangelicals. A bit scary that. His name is uncannily similar to sanitorium where, it would appear, many in Iowa who voted for this guy belong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Hi, I have just been reading the blog.
    Slight error on the BBC behalf..its DR RON PAUL NOT MR PAUL!!!
    Just thought I would bring that up because you normally have a big emphasis on titles eg LORD SUGAR!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I hope Ron Paul wins the nomination. The US is the biggest debtor nation in the HISTORY of MANKIND. Debts have to be repaid. Soon there will be a dollar crisis if things don't change over there. I see the BBC doesn't mention him much on their coverage is that because they don't see him as a credible candidate? ..even though he came in third, only 3% off the tied first two positions?


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