Close barley defines it.  Eight votes is all that separated Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in Tuesday's Iowa Caucus.  It was a photo finish that just may go down in the history books as the closest presidential contest ever.  In a close third place position is the man many thought could take Iowa, Texas congressman Ron Paul.  With all precincts counted, the final tally looks like this:




In a race that has been defined so many ways it's nearly impossible to keep track, the shake out is not exactly as predicted.  Polls are hard to read sometimes, but most had this pegged to be Paul's or Romney's to win and win big.  Santorum came up from behind, tapped the pack on the shoulder and quickly reminded them that he is still around.   Most of the major metro areas went to Romney, but Iowa is hardly all major metro.  And this is anything but a big win.

It's just the kick off.  We still need to see who can run the ball.  The starting line-up is about what we expected, but to be this close was a shock.  Like I said, the polls are hard to read, not because they are necessarily flawed, but what people tell you they are going to do and what they actually do are so often two different things.  How many Paul supporters got cold feet?  How many Romney supporters started to see a side of Mitt they did not like?  How many just noticed Santorum at the last moment?  It's like the Tootsie Roll Tootsie Pop ad-the world may never know.

But what we do know is that we now have three well defined front-runners headed to New Hampshire next Tuesday.  That's where the work really begins.   The no-holds-barred conservatism of both Santorum and Paul stands in sharp contrast to the more moderate Romney, who's so-called "Romney Care" health initiative while serving as governor in Massachusetts is viewed as the model for 'Obamacare' by critics on both sides of the political spectrum.  Paul is very much the isolationist, but also very much the constitutionalist.  Nothing wrong with that.  But he's just a bit too libertarian for my taste.  I just cannot get my head around the notion that I should not be bothered by Iran having a nuke.  What could possibly go wrong?

Santorum is more the social conservative, vowing to put the brakes on hot-button issues such as gay marriage.  He just might be the Reagan-like figure we've been seeking.   As conservative as both Paul and Santorum are in their own ways, they are as different as they are alike.  But, again, this was just the kick-off.  New Hampshire is the first true primary.  Six weeks ago, you barely heard anyone mention Rick Santorum.  That changed Tuesday night.  New Hampshire has been seen as Mitt Romney's to win and win big.  Perhaps now, it's more likely his to lose-to Rick Santorum.  It's a big leap in New Hampshire, but don't discount any possibilities.

What will make things even more interesting though, is to see just what happens next with Ron Paul.  He is, after all, the most conservative of the group, though his views on foreign policy push more traditional Republican voters away.  But Paul has been the most honest of the group when it comes to matters of domestic policy, constitutional issues and finance.  America is broke and Ron Paul is not afraid to say it.  Admit it.  You agree with him on a few things.

Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry stood in 4th and 5th place respectively, with Michelle Bachmann and John Huntsman rounding out the bottom of the pack, but just barely.  Governor Perry says he will return to Texas to re-evaluate his situation.  It doesn't look good, but I really don't think he should do anything too rash until after New Hampshire.  A lot can happen in one week.  Just ask the other Rick.



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