THE NEW YORK TIMES
Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012 | 2 a.m.
Nevada’s presumed front-runner in the Republican presidential primary, Mitt Romney, essentially shared a victory with come-from-behind candidate Rick Santorum in a razor-thin finish in the Iowa caucuses Tuesday night.
In a race characterized by Republican voters’ unwillingness to settle on Romney as the front-runner, or a leading challenger to his nomination, the Iowa caucuses did little to establish an early leader.
Iowa also did little to either shake up the dynamics or boost the relevance of Nevada’s fifth-in-the-nation contest on Feb. 4.
While Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, should gain momentum from his strong finish in Iowa, he has few resources to compete in upcoming contests. In Nevada, Santorum, a social conservative, has no campaign infrastructure and little natural affinity with Republican primary voters in this libertarian-leaning state.
Meanwhile, Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, and third-place finisher Rep. Ron Paul have spent tremendous time and energy organizing Nevada over the past four years.
“This is not a socially conservative, religious-base state,” Republican operative Grant Hewitt said of Santorum’s chances here. “The (pro-)life issue is not the issue we live or die on here. This is a libertarian state out here. That is not the Santorum message at all.”
Paul’s finish left his Nevada supporters somewhat deflated. They had hoped his focus and well-funded organization in Iowa would propel him to a key victory there.
“We’re a little disappointed but still moving forward,” said Paul’s Nevada campaign director Carl Bunce. “This is a delegate game now and we understand the process. We know how to turn out the supporters. I think we’re fine.”
Paul’s Iowa loss leaves Nevada as one of his best chances to win a state in the presidential primary. Romney is leading in New Hampshire and Paul trails badly in South Carolina. He’s not expected to compete in Florida.
“The game plan is still the same here,” Bunce said. “This is still a Romney-Paul race. Santorum has been nowhere near Nevada.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who won an early endorsement from Gov. Brian Sandoval but had stumbled badly, came in fifth. He announced he would “return to Texas” to reassess his chances — a move many interpreted as a step toward his exit from the race.
Romney’s Nevada campaign adviser, Ryan Erwin, said Romney’s strong showing in Iowa is “the beginning of something really good” for the candidate.
“If somebody had asked six weeks ago whether Romney had a chance to win Iowa that answer was a resounding no,” Erwin said. “But he was able to perform very well. It’s an incredibly important and significant first step.”
Romney has put most of his early-state focus on New Hampshire, the next state on the presidential nominating calendar. He spent far less time campaigning in Iowa. But in the final days of the campaign, he, and the super PAC supporting him, spent heavily on television advertising in the state.
Many of those ads were aimed at turning back Newt Gingrich, who had surged in the polls last month. Gingrich, the only other candidate with staff in Nevada, finished fourth in Iowa.
He vowed to continue fighting through New Hampshire and South Carolina, where he has led in the polls.