The 2012 Iowa caucus election results are in and at 2:30am, Mitt Romney was declared the winner over Rick Santorum, beating him by 8 votes. The Iowa caucus was practically a 3-way race most of the evening, with Romney and Santorum trading leads with Ron Paul. But by 11pm, it became clear that Ron Paul would finish third with 21.4%, or 26,219 votes. Romney finished with 24.6%, 30,015 votes and Santorum with 24.5% 30,007 votes. Newt Gingrich rolled in 4th with 16,251 votes, giving him 13.3%, Rick Perry had 12,604 at 10.3% and Michele Bachmann came in last among the major contenders with only 6,073 votes giving her an even 5%. So what does this all mean?

romney santorum iowa results

For starters, last nights Iowa caucus results for 2012 means that of the state′s 25 GOP convention delegates, both Romney and Santorum will get 11 each. Ron Paul will get 3. Rick Perry said during his post-caucus speech that he will return to Texas and ″reassess″ his options and see if there is ″a path forward.″ He canceled his flight to South Carolina and most experts, including myself, believe he will probably drop out of the race before the weekend. Perry is a trooper and a good Republican. Bowing out now with some grace and dignity will help him down the road if he decides to run again.

Michele Bachmann was determined last night to keep fighting, but this morning she has announced a press conference for 11am and will most likely withdraw from the race as well. Or at least announce a similar ′reassessment′ a la Perry. Bachmann has also canceled her flight and travel plans to South Carolina.

Newt Gingrich is ready to declare war on Mitt Romney. In his post-caucus speech last night, Newt threw down the gauntlet, saying that he will tell the truth about Romney which will mostly be negative to the ears of Conservatives. Gingrich arrived in New Hampshire early and already has full page ads blasting Romney as not conservative enough. A Super-PAC supporting Newt will also keep going and attack Romney as well. This election cycle was Newt′s only real shot at the White House, and he really does not care who he irritates at this point in the corridors of the GOP Establishment.

Ron Paul will keep going. What else as he got to do? He′s not running for Congress again this year. At least that was his plan. His devoted followers will bankroll him right through till the convention with their online money bombs. He will soldier on getting between 5% to 10% in most of the remaining caucuses and primaries. If he is lucky, he may wind up with 100 or so delegates and possibly play a spoiler role, having a say in the convention platform and getting a prime time speaking slot.

Rick Santorum is now the flag bearer of the Conservative movement, for the moment. While he′ll campaign some in New Hampshire, Rick will focus more on South Carolina and Florida these next few weeks. Santorum has actually visited and spent more time in South Carolina than any of the other remaining contenders. He has a ground game there and with a near victory in Iowa, will probably get the money needed to fight on. What he really needs now are some important endorsements. If Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh were to encourage fans to support Santorum, the ′Stop Romney′ campaign would be fully engaged and Conservatives will rally around Rick. We will see this weekend if he decides to really challenge Romney in the upcoming debates, or hold back keeping the door open to a Vice Presidential spot alongside Mitt.

What will Mitt Romney do now? Given that his percentages and even raw vote totals failed to match his 2008 Iowa caucus results, 25.13% and 30,021 votes, despite more people participating this year and the fact that he has been essentially campaigning for the last five years, Romney is still in trouble. He has yet to garner much support or enthusiasm from the Republican Conservative base. Nor from the Tea Party, either. Plus, he now faces the scrutiny of being the front runner.

With a huge lead in the polls for next week′s New Hampshire primary, Romney′s pretty perch will expose him now to a flurry of attacks from both Gingrich and Jon Huntsman (remember him?) which is something Romney has been able to avoid thus far. The question of whether or not Romney has a glass jaw will soon be answered. I contend he does have such and by the time we get to Florida at the end of January, Mitt may find himself in deep distress.

The big winners last night were Barack Obama and David Axelrod. They could not be more pleased. For months they have been preparing to fight a campaign based on the assumption that Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee. Obama has been campaigning since the summer on how the Republican Congress is only concerned about the wealthy and the corporations. If Romney is the nominee, then they can add that the GOP wants a wealthy, corporate president, too. Axelrod will trot out a series of commercials featuring people who became unemployed when Romney′s company, Bain Capital, took them over and outsourced their jobs to India or China. I can only imagine what sort of October Surprise dirt they can unleash around Halloween.

So that is how the 2012 Iowa caucus results shaped up. Mitt Romney was declared the winner at 2:30am after both his campaign and that of Rick Santorum′s agreed to settle on the numbers despite there still being some votes uncounted. Ron Paul′s third place finish may spawn some conspiracy stories concerning how the votes were handled for counting. Still, Paul did do much better this time around than in 2008, unlike Romney who barely nudged the needle. Rick Santorum is now the flag bearer for the Conservative movement as the election moves onward to New Hampshire and South Carolina. For Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann, it looks like the end of the line. For Newt Gingrich, its the end of the kindly ′Uncle Newt′ as he prepares to go Rambo on Romney.