Iowa Republicans were to cast their first votes of the 2012 White House campaign late Tuesday,with Mitt Romney,Rick Santorum and Ron Paul in a high-stakes battle to win the partys kick-off nominating contest.
Voters gathered in schools,libraries and other public spots across the state to render judgment in the frequently shifting Republican race to pick a challenger to President Barack Obama in the November 6 election.
Santorum,a conservative former US senator from Pennsylvania,is the latest candidate to rise in polls in a race that has seen a handful of hopefuls roll through the top spot. He is battling Romney,the national front-runner and narrow leader in Iowa polls,and libertarian Paul for a crucial win in Iowa that could provide momentum and a surge of new donations as the race moves to next weeks contest New Hampshire.
Get folks and bring them to the caucus with you, Santorum told supporters in Perry,Iowa,on Monday as each of the candidates made a final pitch for votes and tried to bolster their turnout. Iowa polls showed many voters could still change their mind before Tuesday night,adding an element of unpredictability to an already fluid race.
Im undecided,and Im still in the same boat as when I came, said Zander Morales,a hospital worker in Des Moines after he attended a rally on Monday for Paul,the US congressman from Texas. Republican voters in Iowa gathered for the caucuses at more than 800 sites across the state. Results should begin to come in within a few hours.
The event is the culmination of months of campaigning in Iowa,and starts a frenzied schedule that will include a half-dozen debates in January and three more state contests on January 10 in New Hampshire,January 21 in South Carolina and January 31 in Florida.
Its hard to predict exactly whats going to happen. I think Ill be among the top group, Romney told MSNBC television Tuesday. Texas Gov. Rick Perry,former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann all trailed the top three Iowa candidates.