Analysis: Obama Among The Winners In Iowa

After a dramatic, confusing night of suspense in the Republican Party's Iowa caucuses, the big winner may well have been a Democrat: Barack Obama.

The president's re-election campaign had reason to smile early Wednesday, as Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum battled to a virtual dead heat in the caucuses that kicked off the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, emerges from Iowa with his front-runner status intact, his well-funded campaign ready for a months-long fight.

But his razor-thin margin over Santorum - a social conservative who ran a low-budget campaign with little advertising - reinforces persistent doubts about Romney's ability to win over his party's conservative base.

It also increases the chances that Romney's still-likely march to the Republican nomination will not be the quick kill Romney has hoped for, analysts and strategists said on Wednesday.

For an Obama campaign that has long operated on the assumption that it will face Romney in the November 6 election, that is good news.

When he finished second to Huckabee in Iowa in 2008, Romney won 25 percent of the vote in the state.

On Tuesday he received roughly the same percentage of the vote. Despite being the front-runner in the Republican race, Romney has not risen above 25 percent in national Republican polls.

Many Republican strategists say that is a problem.

"Mitt Romney has flatlined," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist. "Obviously, he emerges as the odds-on favorite to win the nomination. But (Tuesday) was a good night for him, not a great night."

O'Connell said that for Republicans, "the key question is, Can Rick Santorum convince South Carolina and beyond that he has general election appeal? Will the anti-Mitt vote consolidate behind one candidate?"

Romney's team is planning a trip to South Carolina this week, after Romney spends some time campaigning in New Hampshire.

Read more from Tim Reid and Sam Youngman at Reuters

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published this page in In The News 2012-01-04 10:00:00 -0500
Analysis & Political Strategy