US & Canada

Press mull lessons from Iowa

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is surrounded by news media following a campaign appearance at the Indianola Public Library Saturday, Dec. 31, 2011, in Indianola, Iowa.
Image caption The candidates were put under the media spotlight as the Iowa caucuses loomed

Media commentators have been pondering the results of the Republican caucuses in Iowa - which saw Mitt Romney crowned the winner by a wafer-thin margin of just eight votes over Rick Santorum.

Ron Paul was their nearest rival, coming in with 21% of votes compared to the two frontrunners' 25% each.

Here is a round-up of what some of the US and international media have to say about the results.

US media

For the New York Times, the three-way split in support between three leading candidates underlines the challenge facing Republicans: to unite the party.

"The deep ideological divisions among Republicans continue to complicate their ability to focus wholly on defeating President [Barack] Obama, and to impede Mr Romney's efforts to overcome the internal strains and win the consent if not the heart of the party," Jim Rutenberg writes.

"Mr Romney may have the most money, the best organisation and, often, the best poll numbers in hypothetical match-ups against Mr Obama.

"But he has not yet been able to tap into the anti-government, populist zeal in the party or convince more traditional conservatives that he is an acceptable standard-bearer in an election that much of the right hopes can not only unseat Mr Obama but permanently shift the nation's values and direction."

Those ideological divisions may have a paradoxical result, however, says the New Yorker in a comment piece by George Packer about some candidates' "gutter rhetoric".

"The great puzzle of the Republican campaign is that, in an era of unprecedented ideological fervour, the party will almost certainly nominate the candidate who is the blandest, least ideological, and least trusted by conservatives of them all (that would be Mitt Romney - Jon Huntsman doesn't count as long as he's in the low single digits)."

For Bloomberg, however, the "much-maligned Iowa phase of the campaign has been extraordinarily useful at clarifying the ideas, weaknesses and strengths of the Republican field".

Image caption Tea Partier Michele Bachmann found her campaign floundering

It adds: "The [three] candidates who emerged from the pack tonight... earned the political edge bestowed by Iowa Republicans, however short-lived it may be. They represent distinct elements of the Republican coalition, and on Tuesday they outpolled their peers - the only measure of success our system recognises."

The Wall St Journal identifies what it says is the next challenge for Rick Santorum - "whose opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage made him a polarising figure on Capitol Hill".

He must "distinguish himself as a conservative alternative to Mr Romney without turning off centrist Republicans or the independent swing voters who would help him become a viable general-election candidate in a match-up with President Barack Obama", it says.

The Christian Science Monitor looks ahead to the next battles in the Republican nomination race - not to the 10 January primary in New Hampshire, where it says Mr Romney looks set to secure an easy victory, but to the South Carolina primary on 21 January, which it says "could prove crucial".

"It is the first contest in the South, and as such, does not favour Romney, a northerner. And some of the lower-tier candidates out of Iowa - such as Governor Perry and Congresswoman Bachmann of Minnesota - have announced they are skipping New Hampshire and heading straight to South Carolina.

"As long as the field remains large and divided, that helps Romney. He is one of the only candidates in the race with the money and organisation to last through a long slog through weeks of primaries and caucuses. But if he cannot build on his base of support, seemingly stuck in the mid-20s, that raises serious questions about how he gets to the nomination."

For Mr Santorum, meanwhile, the question is "whether he can raise money and build an organisation quickly enough to run a national campaign".

International media

For the UK's Telegraph newspaper, given the three-way split in the vote, "the biggest winner was perhaps not even competing: President Barack Obama."

"Iowa's results suggested there is a three-way tug of war in the party between moderates, evangelicals and libertarians that will drag out the contest. Mr Romney will probably grind his way towards the nomination, he will not be a popular choice, just as John McCain was a begrudging selection in 2008 and ran a poor campaign.

"A nominee with lacklustre support will mean a lack of enthusiasm among the party faithful that could depress the Republican vote in what will be a tight race in November," the paper predicts.

Other international commentators urge caution in attributing too much significance to the outcome in Iowa.

But a blogger with The Economist is happier to make some predictions.

"After tonight, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and probably Newt Gingrich are finished, which ought to give Mr Santorum a further boost... As for Ron Paul, his third-place finish just wasn't good enough. He'll continue to pull out third-place finishes, maybe even a few seconds, and his relevance will fade down the stretch.

"Mr Romney's still the frontrunner, and tonight's performance at least met expectations. But he didn't clinch the sort of win that might have made him seem the inevitable nominee. Like it or not, you're about to get to know Rick Santorum a whole lot better."