The Star Late Edition

Romney in tight race at crucial caucus


DES MOINES, Iowa: Former Massachuse­tts Governor Mitt Romney was locked in a tight race with two challenger­s in Iowa’s Republican presidenti­al caucuses, the opening contest in the campaign to pick a challenger to President Barack Obama.

Romney, former US Senator Rick Santorum and congressma­n Ron Paul were separated by less than 200 votes as early returns were coming in from the caucuses – evening meetings held at 809 locations across the midwestern state.

Romney was looking for a strong performanc­e in Iowa to strengthen his shaky frontrunne­r status. Iowa is not considered a natural stronghold for Romney, so a solid showing there could boost his campaign going into next week’s New Hampshire primary, where he is the favourite.

Romney has cast himself as the most formidable potential rival to Obama, whose re-election prospects have been damaged by America’s sluggish economy. But Romney has struggled to win over conservati­ves. His support has hovered around 25 percent in what is now a seven-candidate field.

Almost all of his rivals have had brief surges in recent months, only to fade quickly under intense scrutiny. Santorum and Paul were the latest to rise in Iowa, though both are considered longshots to win the Republican nomination.

Santorum has long been at the bottom of Republican polls, but he has campaigned hard in Iowa, where his solid conservati­ve stances on social issues like abortion and gay marriage resonate with the large numbers of evangelica­ls who dominate the state’s Republican base. It’s not clear whether the message will carry as well in more moderate states or if he can come up with the funds or organisati­on to sustain a national campaign.

Paul’s advocacy of smallgover­nment, libertaria­n values has won him a devoted core of supporters, including in the important tea party movement which fuelled the Republican wave victory in the 2010 congressio­nal elections.

But his anti-interventi­onist views and criticism of aid to Israel puts him at odds with much of the party.

Returns from 548 of 1 774 precincts showed Romney, Santorum and Paul each with 23 percent, separated by 189 votes.

Iowa has an uneven record when it comes to predicting national winners. It sent Obama on his way in 2008, but eventual Republican nominee John Mccain finished a distant fourth here to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

The 100 000 or so voters are disproport­ionately white and more conservati­ve than the overall American electorate.

Still, a victory means a wave of publicity, a likely boost in campaign contributi­ons and a guarantee of surviving for at least a few more contests. – Sapa-ap

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