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Closest Caucus In Decades Has Santorum And Romney In Dead Heat

Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum at a stop just hours before Iowans began the 2012 nominating process. (Photo by Brent Lewis)

DES MOINES – At Valley High School in West Des Moines, backers of five of the Republicans running for president took turns urging support for their candidate. Some speakers read from a script, while others ad-libbed.

All hoped they would woo enough of their neighbors to put their candidate over the top in Tuesday’s first-in-the-nation presidential contest.

“There is one candidate in this race whose character is beyond reproach,” said Hillary Hansen, 25, a volunteer with former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Early Wednesday, Santorum was in a dead heat with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Both candidates had about 25 percent- about 29,000 votes each- with Romney ahead by just a few votes.

One political analyst said before Tuesday night’ results that even a second place finish for Santorum would be a victory.

“If [Santorum] places second, he still emerges as the anti-Romney,” said Rachel Caufield, a political science professor at Drake University. “That’s what we all thought would happen.”

Santorum supporter Hansen said that either a first or second place would be “something to celebrate.”

Hansen and other Santorum volunteers spent the day calling Iowans to encourage them to go to the caucus. Among the talking points volunteers mentioned were Santorum’s family values and his work on conservative causes such as the partial birth abortion ban.

“He’ll leave Iowa with a huge burst of momentum [if he places first],” said Caufield.

Support for Santorum was noticeably strong at Valley High School, with multiple volunteers handing out stickers and campaign flyers.

“He’s really a true conservative,” said Jean Deeds, 60, a volunteer who also spoke on Santorum’s behalf.

Santorum gained a lot more attention this past week after the release of the latest Des Moines Register poll, which placed him in a close third to Romney and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.

From Iowa, candidates head today to New Hampshire for the second-in-the-nation nominating contest on Jan. 10, and to South Carolina for a Jan. 21 primary.

Santorum may find the next contests more challenging.

“His funding is not well set up,” said Caufield. “He doesn’t have the money to go against Romney.”

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