The results of the 2012 Iowa caucus are in, showing a near-tie between GOP presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum with Ron Paul coming in at a close third.
The Iowa caucus, while not crucial to the nomination politically, is an important symbolic event, especially if one clear winner appears at the end. With Mitt Romney nearly losing to Rick Santorum (he won by only eight votes) and Ron Paul leading sporadically throughout the tally, the GOP presidential primaries continue to be a race to the finish line, a more extreme echo of the 2008 race between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
But as the dust settles, and 100 percent of all precincts are (finally) reporting, who were the big winners and losers of last night's 2012 Iowa caucus? As the candidates steel themselves for the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 3, here's a rundown of their numbers, percentages, and their chance at the Republican nomination.
Iowa Caucus Result: 24.6 percent (30,015 votes)
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Mitt Romney's first big win is already, in some ways, his first official loss. The former Massachusetts governor proved once again that he was the candidate to beat, but his barely-there win in Iowa also proved that there were many voters who wanted to see him beaten.
Romney squeaked into first with just eight votes, and until the early hours of the morning, it seemed like it would be Rick Santorum's or Ron Paul's caucus for the taking.
That said, Mitt Romney continues to hold a huge lead in New Hampshire (47 percent, a good 30 percent over second place candidate Ron Paul). His status as unshakeable frontrunner continues to hold, albeit by a thread in Iowa, and polling directors feel that image may be enough.
Two-thirds of Iowa caucus watchers in the Granite State think Romney has the best chance of defeating Obama in November, and that number, as well as his big lead on issues and personal qualities, remains virtually unchanged, CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said this morning.
Iowa Caucus Result: 24.5 percent (30,007 votes)
Rick Santorum is undoubtedly the biggest winner at the Iowa Caucus. A back-burner contender for months, December saw the family values candidate trending upwards in almost every major poll.
The social conservative also benefits from a big win in a state that, while not a swing, still boasts a far amount of libertarians and moderates as well as hard-line conservatives.
And while Rick Santorum's poll numbers in New Hampshire have stayed low all last month, Iowa's near-tie saw the candidate's chances double from 5 percent to 10 percent. It's still below Romney, Paul and Jon Huntsman, but doubling support within 24 hours is still an admirable gain.
Iowa Caucus Result: 21.4 percent (26,219)
Although Ron Paul slipped to third in the final tally, the Texas Representative is still one of the clear winners of the night. Although Paul has had a devoted following throughout the 2012 primaries, some analysts were skeptical that online or grassroots support would actually translate into winning votes.
In Iowa, Ron Paul proved them wrong. A first place or tied finish would have really cemented Paul's position as the Obama of 2008 (though radically different in positions, both men are eloquent speakers with broad demographic appeal and the ability to surge ahead despite the odds).
Nonetheless, Paul is far above candidates in fourth place and below. And unlike candidates like Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum, Paul has gone beyond rhetorical flourishes to establish himself as a truly distinct candidate in the race. Considering that Arizona Senator John McCain finished in Iowa in fourth place, Paul's numbers are a good sign for his supporters.
Iowa Caucus Result: 13.3 percent (16,251)
Newt Gingrich is Iowa's biggest loser. Not only did the former Speaker end up in fourth place, it was a low fourth at that, roughly 8 percentage points below Texas Representative Ron Paul.
Gingrich had once been a frontrunner in Iowa, making a miraculous comeback in November after his campaign had been declared dead in the water.
In December, however, shortly after he declared that it's very hard not to look at the recent polls and think that the odds are very high I'm going to be the nominee, Gingrich's numbers took a dive.
His campaign made a series of critical missteps, not the least of which was his failure to get onto the Virginia ballot, a Super Tuesday state and a swing state of great value.
Iowa is less a strategic asset than a symbolic First State. But if Gingrich has any hope of recovering, he may have to study the McCain campaign to figure out how the 2008 candidate ended up with the nomination... and then take care to avoid all of his post-nomination mistakes.
Iowa Caucus Result: 10.3 percent (12,604)
After a disappointing but unsurprising fifth place, Rick Perry's campaign looks ready for a way out.
With the voters' decision tonight in Iowa, I've decided to return to Texas, assess the results of tonight's caucus [and] determine whether there is a path forward for myself in this race, Perry told his supporters in Iowa.
His rhetoric was remarkably similar to another GOP candidate who decided to re-access his strategy before eventually opting to suspend his campaign for 2012: businessman Herman Cain.
Rick Perry's decision is still forthcoming, and the Texas Governor has proven himself a man who will go forward even when he's become less a symbol of the people than a butt of the jokes. But the decision to return to his home state rather than continue on to South Carolina seems to indicate that the Rick Perry campaign is about to be over.
Iowa Caucus Result: 5 percent (6,073)
The Minnesota Congresswoman's race has been over for months, but Iowa should by rights be the Bachmann campaign's death toll.
After a month in which her Iowa campaign manager defected to rival Ron Paul, Bachmann promised Americans that she would surprise them at the polls, netting large numbers or even a win. Instead, the candidate and onetime Tea Party darling surprised no one by coming in second-to-last place.
Though NPR reports the GOP presidential hopeful told supporters last night that she intended to stay in the race, Bachmann, like Perry, has canceled her campaign trip to South Carolina, and is rumored to be planning a news conference in Iowa later today.
Iowa Caucus Result: 0.6 percent (745)
Huntsman's last-place finish should come as no surprise to the candidate's supporters. Huntsman decided weeks ago to concede Iowa and focus on rallying support in New Hampshire, a more crucial primary, a region where he has more support, and a state, as he told Politico last month, that likes to reward the underdog.
Huntsman has never been taken very seriously as a Republican nominee, but he's always been able to get voter respect, if his performance in the debates and their aftermath is any indication. And Rick Santorum's near-win in Iowa is good news for a candidate whom many feel is the ultiamte long-shot.
[Iowa was] kind of a jumbled-up outcome, Huntsman told CBS. Who would have guessed that Rick Santorum tooling around in his pickup truck would have gone from nowhere to practically winning the Iowa caucus... Look how much blue sky there is for the rest of the field. This is an open race.
Although Jon Huntsman's chances at the GOP nomination remain slim, things look good for the Republican candidate in New Hampshire. But Ron Paul's numbers are the ones that really catch analysts' eyes.
Despite still dismissing him as a good bet for the nomination, it's worth noting that Ron Paul, like Barack Obama before him, had the most passionate support of any of the candidates in Iowa.
73 percent of his voters strongly favored him, as opposed to 63 percent for Santorum and only 56 percent for Romney. Despite the consensus that Romney is the candidate most believe can beat Obama, Paul's numbers show his supporters are far more likely to believe in him.