Live-Blogging The Iowa Caucuses

12.30 pm. Two last things: McCain will endorse Romney tomorrow. And Frum takes on Kristol:

Bill Kristol saying this is a real race in NH between Romney and Santorum. No it's not. Birth control pretty popular outside Iowa.

12.22 pm. Santorum starts by quoting C.S. Lewis, movingly, about his wife. Then it's on to God and Iowa. As Romney overtakes him in the count. I want to sleep now.

12.19 am. A word from Radley Balko:

Was already clear, but GOP establishment reaction to Paul tonight confirms that party's most important issue is promotion of perpetual war.

Perpetual pre-emptive war – and the national security state to buttress it.

12.17 am. A reader writes about Bachmann's concession speech:

The definition of tone-deaf: The entire country thinks your husband is gay, and the cute little anecdote you choose to pull out about him is that, while you were all campaigning, he was buying accessories for your dog.

12.15 am. Geraghty, pooping the party:

Btw, man of the hour Rick Santorum did not file petitions in Virginia. Not "didn't file enough signatures"; didn't turn them in at all.

12.03 am. From my perusal of the counties yet to report, most of them have Romney slightly ahead. So it could still tighten or change – with about 100 votes or so currently between them. When it's that close, I don't think you can make a huge deal out of the actual winner. But Romney could well still win this.

I suspect that this event has rather indeed winnowed the field, with Perry and Bachmann heading for the exit, Ron Paul headed for more delegates and a possible third party run, Romney doing a little worse than he did last time around. But fair's fair: Santorum is the big surprise and the big winner. He has coalesced the evangelical vote behind him, and given the religious nature of the current GOP, that matters.

But how remarkable that the Tea Party infused GOP has picked two of the most fiscally liberal candidates as their final two. Now Newt and Santorum will savage Romney; and the press will expose Santorum. Paul will have his delegates and will have to be handled right if he is not to indirectly re-elect Obama in a landslide.

11.59 pm. Perry says he will go back to Texas and reassess his candidacy. That's big news. But he looks relieved in a way. If you out-spend your opponents by this vast amount and come in fifth, you really need to drop out. And it looks as if he will.

11.53 pm. A shout out to Al Giordano's aside in a December 22 post:

“Before concluding, I’ll say a few words about former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum. He could still surprise in Iowa. With the graceless falls of Bachman and Perry, it’s now between Santorum and Gingrich as to who can possibly coalesce the Evangelical right behind one candidate in Iowa. But that would require a sudden Santorum surge in the New Year’s Des Moines Register poll.”

11.51 pm. Bret Baier: "The brown there is Rick Santorum." You realize the puns are going to, er, surge now, after this frothy late-night three-way.

11.37 pm. Santorum looks like he could win this. Amazing. He wins 53 percent in the "evangelical epicenters". The question now is: can he win in the South?

11.32 pm. Scott Galupo gets it right:

If anyone attracted new and younger voters to the caucuses, it was Ron Paul — who I can say with certainty will not be the nominee. Romney, for his part, does well among wealthy, older voters. Tonight’s results are mildly troubling for Romney—but more than mildly troubling for the GOP long-term. The party appeals mostly to a segment of the country that’s literally dying.

A party that repels and even demonizes the one candidate able to bring new voters to its ranks is not a healthy party.

11.24 pm. Gingrich is summarizing the core Republican message: a war on Iran, and the "survival" of the US and Israel. Then he calls Romney "a moderate from Massachusetts" who would preside over "the management of decay." He's talking about a months-long campaign in the primaries. And he's going to go negative in New Hampshire. As will Santorum with whatever money he now gets.

11.23 pm. Gingrich says Santorum ran a totally positive campaign. Yesterday, Santorum called Ron Paul "disgusting".

11.22 pm. John Hinderaker does his best to encourage Ron Paul to pursue a third party run.

11.21 pm. There are now 13 votes between Santorum and Romney.

11.13 pm. There's some buzz about Palin's return to her original (pre-McCain) position on foreign policy and her kind words for Ron Paul. There is a right-wing populism out there that Romney cannot harvest and Santorum – who is deeply suspicious of individual freedom – cannot appeal to beyond the Christianists and theocons.

11.10 pm. Paul's Iowa speech focuses on two themes: "freedom is popular" and that his supporters are people who actually "believe in something!" If his supporters are deflated, he doesn't seem it at all. He's a player. But in a Santorum-Romney race, his supporters will flee the GOP. As they should.

11.02 pm. The mood chez Paul is deflated; and Fox just declared that he will come third. That's a rough result for him after his surge. Geraghty assesses Santorum's chances now:

A big question about Santorum has been whether he can assemble a campaign infrastructure in all the states to come, but somehow I suspect that the considerable number of anybody-but-Romney Republicans will eagerly step forward and help assemble that infrastructure. If the race comes down to Romney & Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator will have access to funds from the grassroots. Perhaps not enough to go toe-to-toe with Romney, but enough to make it competitive.

10.56 pm. Romney wins Polk County. Santorum is killing it in the West of the state, especially Woodbury county, where Sioux City is. He may become the evangelicals' not-Romney. He sure didn't win the Catholic vote in Dubuque.

10.49 pm. A shift: Romney is pulling ahead at 25 percent. If he wins this, even technically, he has a great storyline for New Hampshire and then the firewall of South  Carolina. But it's still very tight, and some Paul strongholds have yet to report. Silver:

It's still early, but it appears the eventual winner in Iowa tonight may end up with a somewhat dubious distinction: the smallest share of the electorate by any winner. That title to date is held by Bob Dole, who won the Republican caucus in Iowa in 1996 with 26 percent of the vote (that was, as Nate said, the closest Iowa caucus in history). Right now, no candidate has more than 24 percent.

Advantage: Romney, right? But Romney is under-performing compared with how he did in 2008. It's a mess, isn't it?

10.46 pm. Tobin has some smart analysis:

The greatest danger to Romney’s hopes of winning the nomination was for one of his conservative rivals to break out from the pack. So long as the various not-Romneys are fighting each other, the actual Romney wins. So no matter who comes out ahead in this three-way tangle, the fact that there is no single rival for him in the top tier constitutes a strategic victory for him. Even so, his own inability to do better than the same 20-25 percent he’s had all along doesn’t make him look good. That’s why a first place finish would be sweet for him no matter how narrow the margin of victory. And a third-place finish will feel like a defeat.

So my bet is on second.

10.39 pm. Two possible straws in the wind: the western counties which favor Santorum have yet to report; the same can be said for the big delegate count in Des Moines, where Paul is edging his opponents and where the results are only 37 percent in.

10.33 pm. Romney's Super-PAC worked. Of those who said their vote was influenced by political ads, Romney came in first.

10.30 pm. "More people are tweeting this caucus than are voting in it. Literally." Good one, JPod. And the movement right is not thrilled. Erickson tweets:

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10.28 pm. Fox projects that Newt will beat Perry. Perry is one of the most embarrassingly awful candidates for a national party since Sarah Palin. He should quit but won't.

10.20 pm. So we may not find out for quite a while, given how close this is, and how some of Paul's and Santorum's strongest counties have yet to report fully. It's got to be excruciating for the GOP. Romney may get about the same support in Iowa this time as last, and slightly below his national average. Paul gets to be taken seriously at last and is showing, I think, his potential as a third-party candidate. Santorum, meanwhile, has captured the Christianist vote over Perry. Can he replicate that in South Carolina? Who knows? What will now happen to Santorum's fundraising?

All of which is to say: this could go on for a long time, and damage everyone involved. Once the vetting of Santorum gets going, we'll have another major turn-off for anyone under 30. Romney is still failing to catch fire, having more of his supporters with reservations than anyone else. And in a year when the GOP was supposed to be rearing to defeat Obama , they cannot turn out more people than last time around, in the dark days of Bush-Cheney.

Obama cannot be too worried tonight, can he?

10.17 pm. Tweet of the minute:

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10.12 pm. Santorum is strong in the eastern counties, as expected. Better than expected, actually. But the general result looks like a clean divide between those favoring libertarianism, Christianism, and Romneyism. So take your pick.

10.09 pm. There's a slight shift toward Romney and Santorum, edging ahead with 24 percent to Paul's 22 percent. But it's still way too close to call.

10.06 pm. Palin actually says the GOP must not now marginalize Ron Paul. She declines to back Santorum.

10.05 pm. A woman with a very bad wig is now on Fox. What's her name again?

10.03 pm. Turnout is poor, and the winner is still highly uncertain. In general, that seems like bad news for the GOP. The enthusiasm just isn't there, is it, except for Paul among the young. And the field is deeply split.

9.57 pm. Does it matter who wins, when it's this close? Of course, there's a bump from any actual victory. But if I were Romney, I wouldn't want to come in third, especially if he gets fewer votes this time than in 2008. Nonetheless, it seems to me that Santorum's late surge has hurt Paul and denied him what would have been a stunner. Bachmann is surely toast; Perry has long since become a joke; and Gingrich has shown how vulnerable he is to Super-Pac sliming.


9.50 pm. Intrade goes for Paul:


9.44 pm. Yglesias Award Nomination for Rich Lowry:

I think the “there is no bad result for Romney in Iowa” theme in the media is overdone. If he badly under-performs, say slips to 19%, he’s going to experience an immediate downdraft. So the results we’re about to start seeing do really matter for that and many other reasons.

But so far, Romney is holding up.

9.40 pm. Roger Ebert:

Leaving politics out of it, what sets Ron Paul aside from every other GOP candidate? He's the only one who's cool.

9.38 pm. Krauthammer is spinning for Romney and Santorum, and notes Paul's collapse among the final deciders. But he's right about Perry: a disaster, given the enormous amount of money Perry spent in the state.

9.37 pm. A reader writes:

&OMG. Fox News is actually showing a list of hot Google searches, talking about how many people are Googling "Santorum." And they are wholly clueless about what that search reveals. Fair and balanced — but not fact-checked in advance!

9.36 pm. With almost a third of the vote in, there's no daylight really between the top three.

9.33 pm. A fascinating entrance poll nugget: Paul wins the intensity vote, with 28 percent of his voters strongly favoring him, compared with Romney's 20 percent. More to the point, 28 percent of Romney supporters said they had reservations about him. Only 18 percent of Paul's voters had reservations.

9.25 pm. Paul seems to be winning both Polk and Dallas counties: must-wins for Romney or Santorum, according to the WaPo. But Santorum and Romney are by no means out of it yet. It really is a three-way race. But a remarkable feat for the candidate Roger Ailes has decreed cannot win.

9.18 pm. Some interesting factoids from the entrance polls: Paul beats Santorum among those without a college education; Paul easily wins the under-30s and the lower income brackets. Alana Goodman:

Thirty-two percent of voters say that being able to beat President Obama is the “most important” quality in a candidate. Out of that group, 48 percent are backing Romney, 10 percent Santorum, and 7 percent Paul.

9.16 pm. Withdrawn tweet from Paul to Huntsman:

"we found your one Iowa voter, you might want to call him and say thanks"

9.09 pm. The independents have flooded in, doubling their impact over 2008, thanks to Ron Paul. Silver:

Almost 30 percent of voters identify as either independent or Democratic, much higher than in 2008 and toward the high range of the estimates that pollsters made in their likely voter models. The entrance polls report that about half of those voters are breaking for Ron Paul. Likewise, the percentage of moderates according to the the exit polls is about 20 percent – twice as high as in 2008 – and those voters so far are breaking for Mr. Paul as well.

Santorum is beating Romney among conservatives. This is interesting because New Hampshire really favors candidates with an outreach to independents. And Paul has reversed the youthful exodus from the GOP. Why would any Republicans want that?

9.07 pm. With 14 percent in state-wide, it's basically a three way tie, with Paul just in front. It's exactly the same as CNN's entrance poll results.

9.06 pm. Huntsman gets 1 percent and disses Iowans: "Welcome to New Hampshire. Nobody cares."

9.01 pm. The newsletters do not seem to have hurt, as even Weigel concedes:

So much for the newsletter story. Paul cleans up with "liberal or moderate" voters, winning 40 percent of them, and wins 48 percent of independents.

Who wants a Republican candidate who can appeal to the young, moderates and liberals? I mean, as Marc Thiessen would say, seriously.

8.57 pm. A reader writes:

You're going to be flooded with emails from Canadian readers after the "Santorum/sweater vest" post. In the 2008 election here in Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, generally not known as the cuddly type, (in)famously made over his image by appearing in ads wearing a blue sweater vest. The sweater-vest-as-political-prop has become kind of a meme here in Canada, and for those of us who dislike the Harper conservatives, it's now a symbol of disingenuousness and smarmy politicking. Nevertheless, the makeover seems to have worked; Mr. Harper won that election, and this year, as you know, he finally got his long-sought-after majority government.

The website of the political consulting company that devised the sweater-vest strategy is here.

8.51 pm. Here's a terrific map which helps you judge the actual caucus precinct based on its demographics. It too is showing a strong Paul presence. With 6 percent of the votes in, it's a three way race between Santorum, Paul and Romney. Money quote from earlier today:

There are only four Monied Burb counties in Iowa (around Des Moines in the state’s center and in the west near Omaha, NE), but in 2008 they produced 26 percent of all the caucus votes. In 2012, they could be good territory for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. The Burbs, which are wealthier than average, tend to be less focused on cultural issues like gay marriage and more on the economy. They should be Romney’s strong suit. If Texas Congressman Ron Paul wins in the Burbs, it means populist anger in these counties is running high.

The results are still very slim, but Paul is well ahead of Romney in those burbs. It could well change over the night, of course.

8.50 pm. Which candidate had a speaker at every caucus? Ron Paul.

8.47 pm. Tweets from the field show a pretty lame showing for Perry and Bachmann, as do the entrance polls. Ron Paul wins the total entrance poll from CNN, just ahead of Romney.

8.45 pm. Direct results available here. Some are already dribbling in.

8.44 pm. CNN has the born-again vote going to Paul. Paul is second among the non-evangelicals as well. Hmmm.

8.38 pm. David Frum deserves a reply to this post:

Here’s my question for Ron Paul supporters: why the denial of the undeniable?

Perhaps you like Paul’s message of legalized marijuana? Why not just say so? You don’t think it’s important to stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons? Argue it forthrightly. If you regard Social Security and Medicare as literally the moral equivalents of slavery, go ahead, make your case.

But all this excuse-making, special pleading and jiggering of the rules of evidence so as to exculpate Ron Paul from the record of his whole political life? For what?

Well, for my part, I have often made the case for legalizing marijuana, for containing, not bombing, Iran, and for serious cuts in Medicare and social security. And I do not believe Paul should be absolved from responsibility for the newsletters. He said himself it was a flaw on the Sunday talk shows, which seems like taking responsibility to me.

My question back to David is: which other Republican candidate favors an end to the drug war, reforming entitlements, cutting defense and not launching a new war on Iran? None so far as I can tell. And the whole record of Paul's public life is not defined by the extremes David cites.

8.36 pm. Never under-estimate the Paulites.

8.35 pm Tweet of the minute:

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8.30 pm. CNN's early "entrance polls" show a tie between Romney and Paul, with Santorum close behind. Meanwhile, Ron Paul is busy on this night emphasizing his anti-war foreign policy in Alkeny.