It's Romney by eight in Iowa

An hour into the Iowa caucuses Tuesday night it was already clear this would be a tight three-way race for the state's preferred Republican nominee as Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul all fought their way to the top.

Update: A recount of the January 3 Iowa caucuses showed that Rick Santorum, not Mitt Romney secured the most votes - by 34 people. However, the state's Republican party said no official winner could be declared due to possible errors.

An hour into the Iowa caucuses Tuesday night it was already clear this would be a tight three-way race for the state's preferred Republican nominee as Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Ron Paul all fought their way to the top.

TV anchors breathlessly flitted between campaign clips of the top candidates and message and strategy analysis offered up by the most super star packed talking head panels they could muster. Following every commercial break, we heard: "It's still too close to call," from the (fill-in-the-network) host.

Paul faded to third (21.5% of the vote) as the night wore on, but it wasn't until the wee hours that Romney was declared the victor by a mere eight votes, earning him 24.55% of the vote and leaving Santorum with 24.54%.

As the state that kicks off the presidential nomination process in this country, Iowa's caucuses are now treated as a Super Bowl like event by TV networks eager to draw audiences. Let's not forget that just over 122,000 Iowans cast a ballot last night. To paraphrase one of the talking heads last night (apologies but channel flipping has erased his name), Iowa is an indicator, not a decider of president.

So it's on to New Hampshire next, and we have more debates to come! Well, for some.

While Newt Gingrich (4th place in Iowa) whined about the negative attack ads from Romney, he vowed to return the heat to his competitor in New Hampshire, but Rick Perry (5th place) returned to Texas to "assess" his campaign. After finishing sixth in the state where she was born, Michele Bachmann suspended her campaign.

The Romney money machine is expected to sail into New Hampshire with a new endorsement under its belt coming as early as today from Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee for president. Many expect that Santorum, despite his obvious connection with conservatives, won't be able to compete in the long term against a well-funded candidate like Romney. There's also Jon Huntsman to consider as we move toward New Hampshire. The Huntsman campaign opted to skip campaigning in Iowa for a New Hampshire strategy instead and is said to have made considerable impact on the granite state.

Watching some of the exit interviews with Iowans last night I was struck by the number that said they voted for Romney for his electability. Those who named Santorum as their guy said things like, "I trust him. He shares my beliefs." This is an imperfect study of the voter mindset of course, but it's clear we're back to the conservatives in crisis theme. They don't like Romney, but they think he can win against the candidate they like less: President Obama. Romney has to address this if he wants to really win over conservatives. He can't just run on a platform of electability.

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