Ron Paul

BRENTWOOD, N.H.—During all those lonely months in Iowa, wandering from Pizza Ranch to dingy motel, wondering if 10 voters would show up at the next event, Rick Santorum must have fantasized about his return to New Hampshire, powered by a stunning upset in the caucuses. Somehow, though, it is doubtful that Santorum imagined that his first event in the state would be held in the auditorium of a nursing home. Or that maybe a third of the crowd would drift away before Santorum finished speaking. For nearly 90 minutes, Santorum answered random voter questions.

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The Iowa caucuses were full of last-minute drama: Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney were vying for the lead all night. At 1:50 a.m., Santorum was ahead by just four votes, with only a single precinct's tally still outstanding. Forty-five minutes later, Romney was back in front by eight votes, thanks to some guidance from a pair of precinct captains named Edith and Carolyn got the vote right.

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As of this writing, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney are very nearly tied for first place in the Iowa caucuses, and Ron Paul is close enough to make it a functional three-way tie. But no matter who eventually “wins,” Mitt Romney has already won in terms of Iowa’s impact on the overall nominating process. That’s the case no matter what tomorrow’s spin on the Caucus results suggests, for the simple reason that Paul cannot win the nomination, and Santorum is a very long shot.

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JOHNSTON, IOWA -- When the final vote was tallied at the caucus precinct I was observing, at an evangelical church in the well-to-do outer exurbs of Polk County outside Des Moines, the woman who had spoken for Mitt Romney before the voting, Martha Fullerton, whispered under her breath to a fellow supporter: “We won by one vote.” She shrugged. “A win’s a win.” But a short while later, as I was speaking with voters, a man rushed in. “Where do I vote?” he asked.

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If you do some quick math based on the Iowa entrance poll, you see Ron Paul and Mitt Romney bunched in the low 20s and Santorum slightly behind them at 19 or 20. But there are reasons to think the entrance poll understates Santorum's support. That's because a caucus is a much more public act and than the typical balloting exercise. People vote in front of their friends and neighbors, not in the privacy of a voting booth. That arrangement would seem to favor a candidate with momentum, like Santorum.

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It's never good when a family-values candidate loses the family. John Garver, who identifies himself as Rick Santorum's nephew, has written a column for the Daily Caller that not only endorses Ron Paul but seriously disses Uncle Rick. "If you want another big-government politician who supports the status quo to run our country," writes Garver, a 19 year-old student at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, you should vote for my uncle, Rick Santorum. My uncle's interventionist policies, both domestic and foreign, stem from his irrational fear of freedom not working.

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So everyone more or less agrees on the storyline heading into caucus night: Romney is clinging to a narrow lead, though there are doubts about whether he can break out of the mid-20s, which he’s never really surpassed either in Iowa or nationally. Ron Paul is near Romney at the top of the field, but is widely regarded as a sideshow: He draws heavily from young voters, most of whom will either turn out and vote for him or not vote at all. That leaves Rick Santorum, whom everyone agrees has the wind at his back. The latest polls have him in striking distance of Paul and Romney.

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When the results for the 2012 Iowa caucuses are announced this evening, they will seem as foreordained as Julius Caesar’s ill-fated trip to the Forum on the Ides of March.

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RED OAK, IOWA -- Outside a candidate's event in Council Bluffs, as the wind was blowing in bitter cold from Nebraska, I witnessed my first ugly moment of the Iowa caucuses. A 19-year-old local man, Steve Bertelson, was standing outside on the sidewalk, shivering visibly, silently holding a sign with a scrawled slogan about the 1 percent. As people left the event, several turned on him, shouting angrily just steps away from him as he absorbed the abuse without saying anything. Why didn't he go across the river to Omaha and bother Warren Buffett instead, shouted one man.

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Today is the last full day of campaigning for candidates tromping through Iowa in a quest for the support of the state’s Republican caucus-goers. Mitt Romney is playing up his electability, Rick Santorum is emphasizing his social conservatism, and Ron Paul is warning about a UN takeover of Americans’ land. In other words, it’s a circus out there. But will it finally end this uncertainty and give us a GOP nominee? Probably not, says a 2008 paper. The author, a political scientist, examined the theory that Iowans played “kingmaker” in the major parties’ nominating processes.

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