Sorry, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul fans. Mitt Romney won the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday night. Countering speculation over the past few days (Will Santorum rise up to take the whole thing? Will Paul's dedicated base of supporters shut it down?), the candidate long perceived to be "the most electable" and "the inevitable nominee" came out on top.
However, Romney won by the slimmest of margins. Santorum virtually tied him with a difference of just eight votes, and Paul came in a very close third with 21 percent. With no lead contender garnering more than a quarter of the party's support, despite months of fierce competition in the state, the night wasn't necessarily a slam dunk for anybody. But Santorum's drastic, last-minute surge of support, compared to Romney netting almost exactly the same percentage of votes as he did in 2008, is considerably more impressive.
Some candidates, on the other hand, had a miserable showing and effectively whittled down the field. Dead-last was Jon Huntsman, with 1 percent — not surprising since he barely campaigned in Iowa. But the in-it-to-win-it Michele Bachmann came in sixth place with just 5 percent of the vote, calling the future of her campaign into question (although she showed no signs of dropping out). Placing fifth with 10 percent, Rick Perry announced that he will "reassess" his campaign and return to Texas.
Meanwhile, from Washington, D.C.'s Capitol Hilton Hotel, President Obama conducted a video teleconference with Iowa's Democratic caucuses (which had more than 25,000 attendees despite having nothing at stake). The president, whose re-election campaign maintains more offices in Iowa than any other candidate, thanked supporters and reminded them he kept 2008 campaign pledges such as health care reform, Pell Grant expansions and the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."
"Although we've passed health care reform, we've passed Wall Street reform, there are a lot of forces that want to push back against us and undo some of those changes," Obama said on what he sees as the crux of his campaign. "We're battling millions of dollars of negative advertising and lobbyists and special interests who don't want to see the change that you worked so hard to fully take root. And that's why this time out is going to be in some ways more important than the first time out."
With Iowa now a wrap, the campaign swings to next week's New Hampshire primary. There Romney may well continue his "I'm inevitable" narrative, but Santorum's recent momentum could build to propel him to the lead. Or, we could be in for a twist ending. In the endlessly unpredictable race, it's way too early to call.
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.