As of this writing, at 1:10 a.m., just 18 votes separate Sen. Rick Santorum and Gov. Mitt Romney with 99 percent of precincts reporting. It’s been quite a night.
Although we don’t know the final verdict yet, all six candidates have given their speeches.
Here are my reviews of the candidates’ speeches, what they mean, and what’s next for the candidates:
RICK SANTORUM (1st or 2nd Place): Sen. Santorum gave a terrific (if long) speech that came across as sincere, humble, and grateful. The sour persona that undermined his performances during the debates was largely gone, replaced with a fierce determination and the words “game on.” He appeared less strident and more human than he has in other appearances.
Mr. Santorum did a nice job of laying out a competing vision with the President’s, using his grandfather’s story as an effective speechmaking device. He also, curiously, ran away from the reflexive Republican mantra of “cut taxes,” saying that tax cuts should be a part of the solution, not the sole solution. His focus on the working class was an astute attempt to reach moderates in New Hampshire, which votes next Tuesday.
In short, he gave the best speech of the night.
MITT ROMNEY (1st or 2nd Place): Gov. Romney appeared completely nonplussed by his neck and neck finish with Rick Santorum. In fact, both he and his wife praised Mr. Santorum’s impressive finish. He looked looser than he has in recent months, as two of his toughest competitors – Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich – were likely vanquished tonight.
Mr. Romney came across tonight as confident that he’s going to be the nominee. And he did look presidential, having an American flag framed behind him that made his speech look like a State of the Union address. But his stump speech seemed a little canned, and he risks looking more slick than sincere.
RON PAUL (3rd Place): Rep. Paul finished in third place tonight. Although he enthusiastically pledged to plow ahead with his campaign, he curiously didn’t say much about winning the election, focusing instead on the growth of his movement. His speech appeared to make clear that his campaign is more about disseminating his message than electoral success, and he clearly reveled in the appreciation of his young supporters.
If there was an off-note to his speech, it belonged to his son, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). The younger Paul, standing behind his father during the speech, appeared downright glum. He seemed to know that even though his father wasn’t saying it, their best chance to win the nomination disappeared tonight.
NEWT GINGRICH (4th Place): Just five weeks ago, Speaker Gingrich said, “I’m going to be the nominee…the odds are very high I’m going to be the nominee.” He looked like he was having a blast back then. Not anymore.
If there’s one word to describe how Speaker Gingrich came across tonight, it’s this: pissed. He emanated anger, directed at Mitt Romney, for the negative ads run against his campaign. He went so far as to suggest that the negative ads against him were not worthy of the sacrifices of American men and women in combat. He then proceeded to unequivocally slam Mitt Romney’s leadership as the governor of Massachusetts.
Americans do not elect angry candidates. Just ask Pat Buchanan or Howard Dean. If Gingrich can’t get a grip on his temper and radiate some optimism again, he’s going to implode before he ever makes it to South Carolina.
RICK PERRY (5th Place): Rick Perry cried when reading a note that called him a “great man.” No wonder. Three minutes later, he said he was going back to Texas to reassess his campaign (code for “I’m dropping out.”)
I’ve never seen a candidate give his pre-dropping out speech by struggling to read a handwritten note out loud. He stumbled over the words like a barely literate man who had to focus intently on the phonetics (I’m guessing the letter had sloppy handwriting, but Gov. Perry can’t afford reinforcing the narrative of his “limited” intellect). It served as a perfect closing metaphor for his inept campaign.
MICHELE BACHMANN (6th Place): Rep. Bachmann read a prepared statement, barely making eye contact with the crowd and sans the spirit she radiated in her earlier speeches. She claimed she was going to stay in the race, but she looked completely deflated – not surprising, considering her rejection came from her native Iowa. Her defeated tone sounded valedictory, not like a candidate who intends to move forward.
Her opening line, “We’ll have a party afterwards, so stick around,” bordered on painful: I’ve made Shiva calls that were likely more fun.
Jon Huntsman (7th Place): Gov. Huntsman did not compete in Iowa and received less than one percent of the vote.
Note: The order above indicates where each candidate finished in the Iowa caucus, not my rankings of their performance.
UPDATE: January 4, 2012, 2:36 a.m.: Iowa’s Republican State Chairman just made it official: It’s Romney over Santorum by eight votes. Eight. What a night. I’m going to sleep. Thanks for reading.