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 Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor

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