The votes are still coming in, and Santorum may have won by the froth of his anus, but it’s still too close to call at 1am, Eastern (midnight in Iowa).
As of this second, Santorum leads Romney 29,944 votes to 29,926 with 99.9% of precincts reporting in. Romney could still overtake him, but the 1st and 2nd place slots will undoubtedly be some combination of the two.
Third place went to Ron Paul, with 26,182 votes, and previous flavor-of-the-week Newt Gingrich rounds out the top four finishers with 16,210 votes.
Perry, Bachmann and Huntsman combined for less 20,000 votes. Here’s the breakdown, by percentage:
Huntsman has been campaigning harder in New Hampshire, and I doubt he surprised by his results in Iowa (he actively ignored the state). Bachmann may be the most hurt by these results, as she probably had hoped for far better results after winning the summer Iowa Straw Poll, but she just didn’t have the money or the momentum this time.
Perry is campaigning especially hard in South Carolina, and I imagine he sees that as his to lose (he’s not going to win New Hampshire, a northern stronghold, but he must know he’ll do well in a southern state). I expect him to be in the race for a while longer.
Bachmann really has no business still being in it, since she isn’t getting much face time and she’s not likely to pull off any victories unless a major candidate bails out and their supporters flock to her. Her only prayer may be to stay in the middle (or bottom middle) of the pack until South Carolina, then hope Perry bombs and drops out before Florida’s primary. There is some serious overlap between the supporters of those two candidates, and while Perry has the funds, Bachmann has a shot of winning the Minnesota caucus, which will be held on Feb. 7th, a few weeks after South Carolina’s primary, which could at least give her the momentum to be one of the last candidates standing. If Perry bows out now, she may also be able to capitalize on gaining his supporters in the next few primaries.
But don’t hold your breath.
The same may be said of Huntsman, only his last stand is much earlier. Huntsman appears to be putting all his eggs in one basket, and that’s New Hampshire, a state he might have a chance of doing well in (though I think a win would be implausible, even in a fairy tale). I think Huntsman will bow out if he doesn’t finish in the top half in New Hampshire.
Even before this week, many were saying that Paul’s results wouldn’t matter in Iowa, and in some sense they don’t. He likely won’t finish in the top three after New Hampshire (unless he just sticks around when there are only two other candidates, which I wouldn’t put past him). I think garnering over 20% of the vote really delighted Paul, and I think it’s fair to say the results speak more to the ideology of libertarianism than to the appeal of Paul himself. While I still think they’re nuts, I’ll take Paul and this new crop of libertarians over Reagan and his Young Republicans any day (which is like saying I would rather be punched in the nuts than shot in the face).
While I imagine Santorum will be in the limelight until New Hampshire, the real winner is Romney. He’s proving his mettle, even among a pack of candidates seemingly hand-picked to beat him. His advertising campaigns in Iowa were brutally effective, dragging down former front-runner New Gingrich to a disappointing fourth place just a week or two after being on top in Iowa polls.
When Santorum inevitably falls from grace (if you doubt me, just Google him), Romney will still be near the top. In fact, I would be surprised if Romney does worse than second in any major primary or caucus before becoming the nominee, and I would bet money (if it were legal to gamble on elections) that he doesn’t fall below third anywhere.