Iowa Republican votes still up for grabs

Mitt Romney campaigning in Iowa (2 January 2012) If Mitt Romney wins the Iowa caucus, it would make him hard to beat

To the sound of Kid Rock's Born Free, a tanned and fit-looking Mitt Romney, dressed in blue jeans and crisp white shirt, bounds on stage. This is politics as stadium rock but the setting is more garage band. In fact, it is the first time I have been to a rally in a garage. Tyres hang on the wall, rusty chains coil around the place and a faint smell of oil permeates the air.

It is a testimony to the intimacy of the Iowa experience. Candidates have done nearly a thousand little events like this one, travelling 23,000 miles in the process.

And tonight it all comes to a head. The polls suggest a pretty tight contest for the top three places between Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum. But Romney doesn't spend much time attacking his opponents.

There is coded stuff in the introductions, about the importance of family - aimed at the thrice-married Newt Gingrich - but nothing in his own speech. It is all aimed at the president. He calls Obama "the great divider, the great complainer".

Romney is behaving as though he already is the anointed Republican candidate and is fighting the presidential election. That's probably a good strategy. The Iowa result matters a lot to him, but he doesn't have to top the poll. Winning doesn't clinch the nomination but it would make him hard to beat.

Second place wouldn't worry him. If he and others have stopped Gingrich's rise, then he has probably dealt with his most serious rival. If he comes third, his team have more work to do, but it is reasonable to argue he could see off Paul and Santorum further down the road.

These bizarre primary contests are, on paper, about gathering votes for an election that will never happen. No-one expects delegates to have to vote at the Republican convention in Florida in August.

The Iowa caucus is even odder. Tonight's vote is not binding on delegates to that convention, so this isn't really any more than a glorified opinion poll. It matters because the media say it matters. Whoever gets the top spot in Iowa will get attention and interest and so momentum going into next week's election in New Hampshire.

It could be Ron Paul who makes it to the top. In a college further down the road in Cedar Rapids, the 76-year-old congressman, standing in front of a funky modernistic stainless steel statue, points out gleefully that there doesn't seem to be anyone over 40 at his rally. One middle-aged man gingerly raises his hand. But the Congressman is right.

In the crowd there's a scattering of tats, beanies and sculpted beards that you might think belong more on Occupy Wall Street than a Republican rally. One youthful group I talk to say they like Paul for his honesty. They say he tells uncomfortable truths and they think he can win voters from the left and the middle ground because of that.

His speech calls for troops to be pulled out not just from America's wars but South Korea, Japan and Germany. He attacks the Patriot Act as incompatible with freedom and civil liberties. He says the middle class have subsidised the privileged. With a bit of editing of the parts about the need to cut a trillion dollars spending in a year, you could mistake him for a left-wing Democrat.

Ron Paul would be an intriguing candidate in a general election. But he's a libertarian, not a conservative, and he would have to work hard to convince many Republicans he's the man they want.

The story of this contest so far has been the rise and fall of the candidates who could rival Mitt. First Bachmann, then Perry, then Cain and finally Newt. It was a puzzler why Rick Santorum, the earnest Christian conservative, seemed to make no impact, especially as he was working so hard in Iowa.

Now it seems his reward has come and his turn to surge has coincided with an actual vote. If he should top the poll, there is no reason why he should not build on that success although some say he has no organisation in other states, and not enough money either.

In a way, who does badly may be more important than who does well. A poor result for Bachmann, Perry or Newt may not kill them off straight away, but they may find cash and support begin to haemorrhage. You can find out what actually does happen as it happens here and on our live page.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    "Just out of interest... Can you point to any genocidal atrocities perpetrated by Iran?"

    The 1st which comes to mind: running dozens of thousands of Iranian boys through minefields during Iran-Iraq War to clear them.

    [v. well documented]

    Killing, raping and torturing to death innocent and peaceful Iranian protesters - another example.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.


    My update having recovered from New Year. Taken only from posters to this blog since Sept. It's said that Paul's favoured very much in the blogosphere, and indeed he leads here. I was wrong about Gingrich doing well among you, sorry. Result as follows:

    PAUL 22 votes
    ROMNEY 14
    PERRY 2

    46 clear opinions so far expressed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Stalked by Folly & Hypocrisy

    Only Equality allows All get on with Life: away with Byzantine corruption & distraction of income-grabbing, tax-dodging, insurance quibbling, gambling for command of next generation

    Physical, mental, social health of pregnant:
    Woman's body: not any man's to rule
    Non-viable foetus: rules in counselling
    Deliverable baby: counselling in rules
    NO come-on for rapists

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    "Interesting that withdrawing from wars & occupation is seen as isolationist"

    I've not realised that U.S. is occupying Germany, Japan and S. Korea.

    I thought American forces protected Germany from Soviet invasion/occupation, and Japan and S. Korea from N. Korean one.

    BTW. I thought everybody would know what happened each time after U.S. had become isolationistic. I was clearly mistaken

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    12. MagicKirin

    Just out of interest... Can you point to any genocidal atrocities perpetrated by Iran?

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    Ron Paul isn't isolationist. He simply recognizes that the US has 15 trillion public debt, is adding an exponentially growing 10% more every year, most of the deficit is military spending and if that doesn't change, the government will collapse when China decides they don't need the US any more, stops buying US bonds and starts selling.

    That is a matter of national security.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Dear Mark,
    On the Europe pages there appears to be nowhere at the moment where one can comment on the disgraceful goings on in the "EU".

    Please do something about it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    See BBC round-up

    Seven surviving Republican candidates, all floundering

    Pandering to ignorance on incomes, taxes, healthcare, security, rights

    From own history, best domestic & foreign policy = pro-democratic

    Against corruption, tribalism & superstition, at home & abroad

    To SELL democracy, need to set EXAMPLE

    Not just votes, INCOME-SHARING

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    The caucus method should be eliminated not just Iowa but everywhere.

    there are problems with primary system, but despite what ACORN and other people who want lax voting laws think. Voting is very easy to do.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    ref #11

    Isolation is inheriently dangerous it lead to the U.S late entry into WW2. Being a global leader and the leading promoter of peace and human rights morally the U.S has to take a stand. To let a genocidial power like Iran have nuclear weapons is immoral

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Sensible comments from JClarkson - must have been visited by some Christmas apparition! What has happened to the all powerful Tea Party which hardly gets a mention now. Of course who is elected to stand against Obama & win will still have to face up to managing an uncontrollable economy and two Houses at loggerheads. Interesting that withdrawing from wars & occupation is seen as isolationist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    US and UK in a demented race, Mammon in panic, back to the world that provoked eighteenth century revolution

    For our 'globalised' elites, US & UK becoming just like Rest of World: "OK but for the encumbrance of people, distracted from due service by their workless children, their annoying sick, and the plague of their idle aged"

    Care in extended families might still suit the wealthy, but...

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    JClarkson @6
    "you don't see"

    Not just "irony", tragedy - the missing of "connections" - the sacrifice of "Government of, for, by The People", failure to transcend poisoned debates from centuries gone

    'Bigness' is Out There!

    Make 'big government' YOUR Big Government, or be ruled by 'Big Mammon'

    We all need REPRESENTATIVES in power, knowing life as we know it: realistic, willing but vulnerable

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Spoilt choice?

    Noble might be sacrifice (pipe & slippers) for those 'bounding onto stages' in Republican Primary race

    Out of context might be remarks that stray, Paul on US 'bloated welfare', Santorum regretting UK NHS popularity (fatal obstacle to Thatcher going all the way with Reagan)

    Handicapped enough as Mormon, Romney panders least?

    Gross inequality + Extended family loss = Welfare Need

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    The article seems to be another negative dig at Ron Paul.
    Doesn't the BBC have anything to report about the other candidates, their policies for example?
    And you keep banging on about his age, as if that's a problem!

    Ron Paul stands for a lot of possitive things, typically absent from your 'news'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Yes, and the irony is that you don't see the connection between the terms "republic" and "republican". The founding fathers had very interesting ideas, for their times. Like a small government, that is kept at bay by the citizens and not allowed to meddle into people's lives. Ron is up with that. Unfortunately, he takes the rest of the principles literally and therein lies his doom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    I could never vote for any of these people. Their need to appeal to the most extreme form of religious bigotry and thus their attitude towards abortion and gay rights belongs in the 19th century, and for me that transcends all other matters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Forget all these jokers and their flim-flam.
    Who really directs this precisely scripted and vastly expensive con trick?
    Which reporter will bother to look behind the curtain to see who the producers and makeover artistes are?
    Will we ever be properly represented by our politicians and our commentators?

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    If the founding fathers had been as stuck in the past or hung up on tradition as so many conservative republicans today are, we'd have a monarchy instead of a republic.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    The founding principles of this nation are still compatible with the modern world, but even the founders would realize that with the modern world wide transportation and communication capabilities of today, there is no way an isolationist foreign policy would work anymore. Ron Paul would put this country in great danger thinking you could just crawl into a hole and hope nothing bad happens.


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