Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts, scored one of the narrowest victories in caucus history and defeated former United States Senator from Pennsylvania Rick Santorum by a mere eight votes on Tuesday.
Although Mr. Romney’s win at the first of a six-month season of caucuses and primaries makes him a clear frontrunner to be the Republican nominee in November’s presidential race, the Iowa caucus highlighted the weak base of his support.
While Mr. Romney secured 30,015 votes against Mr. Santorum’s 30,007, the total number of delegates voting in Iowa was 122, 255, implying that Mr. Romney did not succeed in rising above his year-long support level in the 25-30 per cent range. President Barack Obama’s approval rating is however close to 47 per cent, according to a late-December Gallup poll.
Mr. Romney, who was six votes shy of his performance in Iowa in 2008, focused his campaign almost entirely on criticising the record of Mr Obama rather than his Republican rivals. “The gap between his promises four years ago and his performance is as great as anything I've ever seen in my life,” he said. After the Iowa result Mr Santorum said, “Game on!” to his cheering supporters, adding “You have taken the first step toward taking back this country.”
Other candidates in the Republican field whittled down the share of votes going to the leaders of the pack, with libertarian Congressman from Texas Ron Paul cornering a respectable 21 per cent, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich getting 13 per cent, Texas Governor Rick Perry winning ten per cent, and Tea-Party backed Congresswoman Michele Bachmann receiving only five per cent of the vote. John Huntsman, former Governor of Utah and formerly Mr. Obama’s Ambassador to China, did not participate in the contest, choosing instead to focus on the primary in New Hampshire on January 10.
The outcome in Iowa, according to most observers, suggested continuing division and uncertainty in the Republican Party base at the national level and this is likely to affect the prospects of the leaders in the race.
Mr. Santorum, a social conservative who rode the wave of surging popularity in a deeply conservative state, is said to lack the broad appeal and campaign infrastructure to swing supporters to his side at the national level.
Similarly Mr. Romney, who is acknowledged to be the candidate likely to launch the most credible challenge to Mr. Obama in November, faces equivocal acceptance within the Republican mainstream owing to his Mormon religion and his controversial healthcare plan for Massachusetts.