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Bachmann Retreats as Majority of Evangelicals Pick Santorum in Iowa


Mitt Romney edged out Rick Santorum for first place in the Iowa caucus by just eight votes yesterday. Just a few weeks ago, a strong Santorum finish was an outcome few envisioned, even among people who supported Santorum. But in the final days before the campaign, enough voters coalesced around the former Pennsylvania senator to push him near the front of the nation's first caucus.

In a crowded field, Romney nosed out Santorum with each receiving around 25 percent of the vote. If the Iowa caucus serves any purpose in the American political system, it is to winnow the field of candidates. Michele Bachmann suspended her campaign this morning.

Going into the caucus, one of the looming questions was whether social conservatives would rally behind a single candidate. Santorum was the candidate they backed. The once long-shot candidate with more time than money invested heavily in the Iowa contest. He now moves onward with little cash on hand and little campaign organization. Still, he beat out both Rick Perry and Bachmann, both of whom once led in national polls. But in the only poll that mattered, Santorum almost received the most votes.

The entrance polls indicate that many evangelicals only recently decided who to support, according to the New York Times.

"Nearly half of the caucusgoers decided whom to support within the last few days. Mr. Santorum was the candidate who benefited the most from these late deciders - a third of them backed him," Michael Shear reported. "About half of evangelical Christians said they made up their minds within the last few days, while a majority of voters who do not describe themselves that way decided on their vote earlier."

Entrance polls showed that born-again or evangelical Christians made up a majority of the caucus where six-in-ten Iowa Republican voters described themselves as "born-again or evangelical" Christians. Santorum received a third of the evangelical vote. Ron Paul, who came in third overall, polled second with 18 percent among evangelical voters. Paul's evangelical support was as great as support for Perry (14 percent) and Bachmann (6 percent) put together.

Perry and Bachmann each worked hard to be the "Tim Tebow of Iowa"—a reference to the Denver quarterback known for his evangelical faith and string of last minute wins this NFL season. In an ad, a Super PAC supporting Bachmann compared her to Tebow. "The same could be said of Michele Bachmann: no baggage, Christian, and like Tebow, she keeps fighting and she just keeps winning votes," the ad said. Earlier in the campaign, Rick Perry called himself the "Tim Tebow of the Iowa Caucuses."

In the final days of the campaign, Bachmann knew that the odds were low that she would win, but she told supporters to expect a miracle. On Monday she told supporters on Facebook and Twitter, "Tomorrow night we are going to see a miracle because we know the one who gives miracles."

This morning, she announced the end to her campaign. "I will continue fighting to defeat the president's agenda of socialism," she told her supporters in Iowa.

In his concession speech last night, Perry sounded as though he planned to retreat. He announced that he was not moving on to South Carolina as planned but would instead return to Texas to "assess" his campaign. However after Bachmann's withdrawal from the race today, Perry announced he was returning to the campaign.

Newt Gingrich finished fourth and is clearly taking aim at Romney. In a speech following the caucus, Gingrich called Santorum a "good friend" and someone his campaign admired. But his words for Romney were pointed. Gingrich called Romney "a Massachusetts moderate who, in fact, will be pretty good at managing the decay but has given no evidence in his years in Massachusetts of any act to change the culture or change the political structure or change the government."

With Gingrich aiming at Romney, Santorum has room to build on his strong finish in Iowa. Santorum said he will be campaigning in New Hampshire. The contest moves to New Hampshire next week, but the real test for both Santorum and Romney will be in South Carolina on January 21.

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