The Republican presidential field’s most anti-gay candidate scored big Tuesday night when he landed in a virtual tie for first place in the Iowa caucuses with the candidate who has been seen by the media as the party’s most viable candidate against President Obama.
Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who took numerous opportunities in his campaign to espouse his opposition to equal rights for LGBT people, secured just eight votes fewer than former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, out of about 60,000 cast for the two men.
Each won 25 percent of the 122,000 votes cast for seven candidates, in what may be the closest Republican caucus race in history. The final result was not announced by the state Republican Party until after 1 a.m. Iowa time.
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas came in third, with 21 percent of the caucus votes. U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia followed in fourth place, garnering 13 percent. Texas Governor Rick Perry took 10 percent of the vote in fifth place, followed by U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota in sixth place with five percent of the vote.
Openly gay candidate Fred Karger did not compete in the Iowa caucuses. The field’s only candidate supportive of legal recognition of same-sex relationships (albeit through civil unions only), former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, claimed less than one percent of the vote.
Although an Iowa victory is an important symbolic victory, especially in the eyes of the media, it does not secure any of the state’s eventual 25 delegates to the Republican national convention.
Also, polls nationally and in other key states suggest Santorum still has an uphill battle for the nomination. The latest national poll, by Gallup, showed Santorum in fifth place with only six percent of support from 1,000 Republican voters surveyed. Romney led the field with 24 percent. The poll was conducted from December 26 to January 2.
A CNN poll of New Hampshire voters on Tuesday night after Santorum’s success was apparent showed an increase in support for Santorum –to 10 percent, twice what it was in late December. But Romney held fast to his 47 percent of the New Hampshire support, Paul held onto 17 percent, and Huntsman held onto 13 percent.
Santorum’s success in Iowa will probably bring increased attention and support for his passionately proclaimed anti-gay views. Those views and his toughly stated opposition to abortion appeared to fuel his strong showing in the caucuses. A CNN entrance poll indicated that 84 percent of those participating described themselves as either “very conservative” (47 percent) or “somewhat conservative” (37 percent). The majority of those participants (54 percent) voted for Santorum. Fifty-seven percent of participants also described themselves as “white evangelical/born-again Christians.” And 32 percent of those supported Santorum.
The most important issue for Santorum supporters in Iowa, was abortion, according to CNN. (CNN apparently did not ask about same-sex marriage on the entrance poll.) For Romney supporters, it was the economy.
“[N]o other candidate has made opposing basic rights for LGBT Americans such a guiding principle of his or her public life,” said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
One CNN commentator, Gloria Borger, suggested Santorum’s ascension might draw Romney into more discussions about social issues, such as same-sex marriage.
At least two of the Republican field’s anti-gay candidates —Perry and Bachman– are likely to withdraw from the campaign soon, taking the anti-gay rhetoric down a notch with them. In fact, Santorum himself took his rhetoric down a notch during his remarks Tuesday night.
Santorum, onstage with a large crowd of supporters, thanked his wife Karen, God, and Iowa. He said “rights come to us from God,” he talked about the need for “a plan that includes everyone,” and he talked about the “dignity of every human life.” He said that “when the family breaks down, the economy struggles.” But, despite repeatedly emphasizing his opposition to same-sex marriage throughout his campaign, Santorum did not mention his definition of marriage as being “one man and one woman.”
Romney, onstage with his wife and four of his sons, congratulated Santorum for his success and noted, at 12:40 a.m. Wednesday, that he did not yet know what the final result would be. (Two percent of the vote was yet to be counted, and Romney was leading by only 41 votes. Before he finished his speech, Santorum was leading by five votes.) Romney said nothing about same-sex marriage either, and said “freedom is a gift from God.”
Santorum, who polled near the bottom of the field with only single-digit support for months on end, jumped ahead in the polls in the last few days before the caucus. Bob Vander Platts, one of the leaders against same-sex marriage in Iowa, reportedly took some credit for Santorum’s surge, which started about a week after Vander Platts’ group, The Family Leader, endorsed Santorum.
Both national and local media gave much credit to Santorum’s decision to campaign in every one of Iowa’s 99 counties for his victory. And the Des Moines Register pre-caucus poll indicated that Santorum’s supporters showed a greater likelihood of showing up at the caucuses (76 percent) than those of other candidates.
More than 40 percent of Iowa Republicans were undecided going into the caucuses.
In remarks after most media declared him the third place candidate in Iowa, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul emphasized the importance of staying faithful to the constitution and limiting government interference in private lives.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, who went onstage with just his wife and three kids, mostly read from a letter from a supporter. Perry said he plans to go back to Texas to reassess his campaign, and he left the stage quickly.
An unusually low-key Rep. Michele Bachmann vowed to continue her campaign, but she, too, read her remarks to the crowd, including a reiteration of her promise of “protecting marriage between one man and one woman.” On Wednesday morning, Bachmann announced the end of her campaign.
Openly gay candidate Fred Karger did not compete in the Iowa caucuses, saying he knew the turnout would be “mostly social conservatives” and that his strongholds of support there, the colleges, were not in session.
Karger was in New Hampshire Tuesday night, where he has been campaigning for months. He said that, regardless of how he does in New Hampshire’s primary, January 10, “I’ll absolutely stay in all primaries and caucuses.”
CNN commentator Al Sharpton said Santorum’s success in the race is good for Democrats.
“As long as a Santorum is in the race, Romney’s going to have to keep playing to the right,” said Sharpton, “and the longer he has to debate and stay to the right, he loses the middle.”
Log Cabin Republicans Executive Director R. Clarke Cooper issued a state early Wednesday morning saying that Romney was “one of the best” of the Republican candidates in Iowa on issues affecting LGBT Americans.
“By contrast,” said Cooper, “Senator Santorum rose by appealing to a uniquely socially conservative electorate. The divisive social issue politics which helped Santorum’s campaign in Iowa will only hurt him in New Hampshire and beyond as voters learn more about his record. Winning the White House will require the politics of addition, not division.”
“If using gay and lesbian Americans as a wedge can’t score enough political points to win more than 25 percent in Iowa,” said Cooper, “it certainly won’t help the Republican nominee in November.”
Jimmy LaSalvia, head of GOProud, a national gay conservative group, issued a statement that ignored Santorum’s success in Iowa. Instead, LaSalvia praised Romney and Paul on taking “two of the three top spots in Iowa” and said, “It is clear that the message of economic renewal and limited government is resonating with Republican voters.”
“While there are certainly big differences between Governor Romney and Congressman Paul, especially when it comes to foreign policy,” said LaSalvia, “both chose to emphasize issues like the economy and the size of government over demonizing gay people. We are pleased to see that so many Republicans in Iowa are focused on the issues that unite us as conservatives, instead of the side show issues.”
There are two debates this weekend. The first is in New Hampshire, Saturday at 9 p.m. on ABC. The latter is on NBC’s Meet the Press program on Sunday at 9 a.m.