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Iowa Votes

Aired January 3, 2012 - 22:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Now, that's contingent, that's contingent on what we're seeing in the center of the state, the smaller conservative counties, sort of Santorum and Paul sort of trading.

And so we will see how this plays out. But to Wolf's point, all of the campaigns are saying, well, we see in this in that county, this in that county. You know what? They're in the same boat we are.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And for the Bachmann campaign and for the Perry campaign, do you have to have some soul searching tonight?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, absolutely. I think you have some soul searching about...


COOPER: Do you stay in?

BORGER: If you're Michele Bachmann, I think she's the one that we really ought to be talking about here, because she's not going to have the money to continue. She won the straw poll in Ames in August. She's doing...

COOPER: That was a lifetime ago.

BORGER: That was a lifetime ago. But, you know, she made a big point of she was born in Iowa, this was going to be her state. This was going to be...

COOPER: Right. So you think she might drop out or, given her money situation?

BORGER: Soul searching is what you -- I think, yes.


COOPER: And if you're Rick Perry, what justification do you have for going forward? Just you have got money in the bank?

KING: The justification of going forward -- I talked to Rick Perry today. He said he's the only conservative who can mount a national effort, fund-raising effort, against Mitt Romney. Can he make that case after tonight? Harder, but we will see what happens with Santorum, see how Santorum performs in New Hampshire. Perry's not going to New Hampshire. Perry's going to South Carolina, Southern governor, conservative, a Tea Party message. Look, he understands he blew it in the early debates. The voters in Iowa never forgave him for those gaffes.

He's going to try one more time in South Carolina. He insists no matter what the number is tonight, he will fight at least through South Carolina. The question is, when he goes back to his donors, can he say, give me one more chance, I need enough resources to fight it out in South Carolina?

He's been governor of a big state, a lot of money there for 10 years, and he can probably raise enough money to have a credible effort in South Carolina.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Anderson, what's so interesting about Iowa is it's so much about the media interpretations of what happenings.

You know, we're actually not talking about very many votes. We have got certain people up on the board who have each got less than 8,000 votes and we're making -- this is a national deal.

BORGER: High school president, right.

GERGEN: So, it's all about interpretation. And I think in the end of the day, it really does matter what the order is of these three.

It's not just that they're bunched, but if Romney comes out number one, I think that really helps him on the interpretation game, whereas if he were to come out number three, I think he gets hurt.


BORGER: And particularly if he's followed by Santorum and Paul, who lots of people believe will not be able to mount a national campaign.

KING: Four years ago, the day after Iowa, the trap door opened under Mitt Romney in New Hampshire, just like a trap door. He underperformed in Iowa after spending $10 million and it happened like that. And John McCain came back and won the state.

That's what we will see. I believe CNN will have a flash poll tonight, a unique flash poll tonight in New Hampshire. We will see what those numbers show. We will see over the next two or three days what those numbers show. If Romney comes out of this in a way that does not weaken him in New Hampshire, he becomes the prohibitive favorite.

But that doesn't mean -- a lot of people you see out in the Twitterverse, people saying this is about delegates, this could go on for months. It's only about delegates if it goes on past the four or five contests. At the moment, it's about momentum.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Electability also is really important. Remember four years ago in Iowa, 7 percent of the voters said electability was what mattered. Tonight it's 48 percent. And you see that those people, that's really what you see going for Mitt Romney, the pragmatism and the practicality.

COOPER: And our Candy Crowley is standing by with Donna Brazile and also Mary Matalin.

Candy, you have talked to Gingrich throughout this campaign. He, certainly, if he does come in fourth, as right now, he's in fourth, would continue.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think Gingrich is in for another couple of weeks, at least if you listen to him.

Let me just first say, between the two of you, we have decided we have got six decades of experience here in Iowa. You know what it's like to be sitting in that room with a winner or a possible loser and trying to make that calculation. What goes into this should we move forward or should we stop here?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There's no question it's money.

If you come out of the caucuses tonight in one of the first top three places, clearly, you want the candidate to go on. You're already looking ahead. And in my case, and I'm sure like Mary, my role was to deploy staff to the next two or three states and, if your candidate succeeds tonight, you're bringing him to Tennessee, you're bringing him to South Carolina, but if you do poorly tonight, you're going to bring him back home and try to close the campaign down.

CROWLEY: Did you ever find -- did you have a loser here?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I actually lost the state in 1980, and Lee Atwater fired me three times and George H.W. Bush called me the next morning. He said, get on a plane, you're unfired.

This is an up-and-down the state. But we have been debating this whole cycle about how much does organization count, how much does social media count? Where these results are right now, they're between 100 and 200 votes apart. That's where organization comes in. And that's what we did.

And that's what we'd be focused on, sitting in those caucuses going, we didn't turn out 20 voters here.

CROWLEY: Mary Matalin, Donna Brazile, we will be back with you.

But right now, we want to throw it back to Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Candy. We have got more official votes in. Almost half of the precincts have now reported, 46 percent. And all of a sudden Rick Santorum is slightly atop the field with 24 percent. He's 162 votes ahead of Mitt Romney, 12,417 for Rick Santorum, 12,255 for Mitt Romney. Ron Paul is now third, 22 percent, 11,238.

Newt Gingrich, look at this, a distant fourth, only 6,788 votes, 13 percent. If we move to the bottom three, you see Rick Perry with just more than 5,000 votes, 10 percent, almost 3,000 votes for Michele Bachmann, 6 percent, 300 or so votes for Jon Huntsman.

But Rick Santorum, all of a sudden, with almost half of the precincts reporting, slightly ahead, only 162 votes, only 162 votes ahead of Mitt Romney. It's still a three-man race, still 54 percent of the precincts remaining outstanding.

Jim Acosta is over at Rick Santorum headquarters. Let's talk to him a little bit.

I guess the folks over there, they're pretty happy, at least right now. A lot of them have come back from the caucuses, right, Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. They're very happy right now, Wolf. They're starting to fill in behind me, and it's just sort of extraordinary to note what you were talking about just a few moments ago, the fact that Rick Santorum, somebody who has not really had much of a budget to work with -- I mean, he's been on a shoestring budget, crisscrossing this state in a pickup truck, you know, that is really the pickup truck that belongs to one of his own supporters.

It's not even his pickup truck. But he has been crisscrossing the state and doing quite well tonight, despite the fact that he's been outgunned by all of his rivals here in Iowa.

And I'm joined now by one of his big surrogates here in this state.

Jim Bob Duggar, you're actually from Arkansas, but you're the star of the TLC reality show "19 and Counting," and that refers to your 19 kids. And they're not all here in Iowa, but a lot of them are.

JIM BOB DUGGAR, RICK SANTORUM SUPPORTER: We have got 12 of our 19 children here, and we came up here to Iowa to help Rick.

And he's just a great man. He's the father of seven children, has been married for 21 years. He's consistently voted for lower taxes and less government. He's just a great guy. And we are just 100 percent behind him. And we're asking all the different conservatives, the people that are looking for a family values candidate to consolidate behind him and push him on.

ACOSTA: And you were a Mike Huckabee supporter back in '08?

DUGGAR: Yes. I was here four years ago in Iowa and helped Mike Huckabee, and we really think a lot of him. And I guess you would say...

ACOSTA: Now, I have noticed that a lot of the Huckabee forces have come out to support Rick Santorum this time around. So some of that Huckabee wave is perhaps going in his direction tonight.

I would just ask -- real quick, Jeremy Masterson, I talked to you about this a little while ago.

This is another Santorum supporter.

You were picking up on this, the fact that he's been to all of these counties, that he's put the time in here. That means something to you as an Iowan.

JEREMY MASTERSON, SANTORUM SUPPORTER: It really does. I mean, it shows that he's more -- like you said, he's not about the polls, he's about the people. And it's about taking the time to go around and talk to the people and find out what's really important, and not only that, but sticking to the conservative values, like he says.

You know, we shouldn't settle on a candidate, but really choose one that represents the best value. And I agree with -- I'm sorry.

ACOSTA: With Jim Bob there, exactly, yes.

MASTERSON: Yes, and just the fact that he is about family values. Just he's been supported by Jim Bob, Sarah Palin, a lot of people that stand for a lot of good conservative values.

ACOSTA: I have been hearing that time and time again tonight, Wolf, that family values is driving a lot of the support for Rick Santorum.

Just consider the fact that he's doing this with very few resources. This might go back to the -- you know, that old strategy for winning in Iowa, that grassroots is what really matters here in order to win this state, that TV advertising, big budgets, big buses with your name plastered across it, that doesn't always mean everything in this state, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, he worked the hardest -- there's no doubt about that -- in Iowa. He was the first to visit all 99 counties and he spent an enormous amount of time with limited resources there right now.

Let's go to Anderson Cooper and Ali Velshi. They're monitoring social media for us.

What are you guys seeing?

COOPER: We're talking a look at kind of where the biggest buzz online is.

What are you -- you have been watching...

(CROSSTALK) ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, at the risk of sounding like a big nerd, I have been following this very closely. And our servers are actually...


COOPER: Wouldn't be the first time, Ali.

VELSHI: I hear you.

We're bogging down, actually. We're getting 14,000 to 15,000 tweets per hour that are naming one of the candidates. The colors here correspond to various candidates. All night and most of the day, with the exception of a few minutes, Ron Paul has been on the top. This is the total number of tweets in the last hour that have named Ron Paul.

So you can see almost 5,000 there, Mitt Romney in the number two spot, Santorum in the number three spot. That's remained relatively consistent, but the only thing that's been for sure is Mitt Romney -- is Ron Paul right at the top.

Now, you see what is happening after this. This is not Iowa, this is everything in the Twitterverse. Rick Perry's been sort of fighting for that fourth place. Even Jon Huntsman is above Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann in terms of sentiment that they're getting online.

So this is kind of interesting that it's bogging us down. These are more than our server provider expected. These are going through big servers and there are just a lot of people talking about these candidates. Now, I will tell you, it's not all positive.

It's positive, it's negative, it's a whole bunch of sentiment. All of these green dots are tweets that are from these places that are positive, that mention the candidate. All of the gray ones are neutral. We can't determine whether they're positive or negative.

The red ones are absolutely negative. You can see, there aren't a whole lot of negative tweets out there right now. These are people talking about their candidates or mentioning what's going on. Everything you see that's white, by the way, there's so many things going on that you can't see. So you can see, in Iowa, they're piled up on each other, and that's why you're seeing white dots.

Bottom line, there are a whole lot more people than those in Iowa and those who are just Republicans interested in what's going on tonight. They're really talking about these candidates on...


COOPER: All right, Ali, thanks very much.

Our coverage continues. The vote is still being counted in some places. We continue to get new numbers in. We will be right back, have more numbers for you. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We have got cameras at the headquarter locations for the candidates, the three candidates who appear to be doing the best right now in the official vote. Almost 50 percent of the precincts are in. It's a very, very close race between Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, and Ron Paul.

You see the headquarters right there, the Romney headquarters. They're getting ready to hear from him. "Believe in America," that's what it says about Mitt Romney. Rick Santorum, "Faith, Family, and Freedom." You see the big banner behind the stage there. And Ron Paul, "Restore America Now." We're going to hear from all of these candidates. Stand by.

But let me show you the vote count, the official vote count right now as it stands. These are not entrance poll numbers. These are the official numbers -- 48 percent of the precincts have reported.

Rick Santorum is now 328 votes ahead of Mitt Romney. They both have 24 percent, 13,339 for Rick Santorum, 13,011 for Mitt Romney, Ron Paul slightly behind with 22 percent, 11,972, Newt Gingrich at 13 percent, 7,248. He was really hurt by all those negative ads that were pummeled against him over these past several weeks in Iowa. Rick Perry is at 10 percent if you take a look over there, the bottom three, Michele Bachmann at 6 percent, and Jon Huntsman only 1 percent.

Big, big night. You know, Rick Santorum, Anderson, you think about it, Rick Santorum -- when we had our CNN/"TIME" magazine poll that came out last week, that was the first real indication, it was only a week or so ago, that he was doing amazingly well, out of the blue, seemingly.

COOPER: And then it was this four-day "Des Moines Register" poll, which really tracked it over the course of those four days. Early on in the poll, he was getting below 15 percent. The last two days of the poll, pollsters were finding he was getting above 22, 23 percent.

KING: Normally, Iowa is the first act. It was not this cycle. The debates were the first act. And Iowa, unlike in past campaigns, up until that last debate a couple weeks ago, Iowa kept tracking the national polls.

Normally, you would have a national poll. If you go back four years, eight years, 12 years, 20 years, you have a national poll, and Iowa is always a little quirky, a little contrarian. It's a little different. The Iowa polls tracked the national polls all through the debate season. Then the debates stopped.

And Iowa was fought the old-fashioned way, retail politics. And whether you support Rick Santorum or not, you have to give credit. The candidate with the least money did it the old-fashioned way, spending some of his own life savings out there. He doesn't have a lot of money. There are people out there saying, oh, he's a former congressman, a former senator, he gets a pension. Of all these candidates, he does not have a lot of money. And he did it the old-fashioned way. I went out three different times to see him. And in November, you could begin to pick it up that the grassroots activists, the Christian conservatives were saying, you know what, this guy's really trying.

And another point, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, after Herman Cain left the race, a lot of the grassroots activists who don't like politicians, who don't trust politicians, who think they're all, forgive me, liars, say, these guys are authentic.

BORGER: And he became a positive candidate. You know, I remember when he was running for the Senate and he lost that race. He became kind of a negative candidate at a very tough time.

In this particular race, the higher he went in the polls, the more positive he became. He found that little sweater vest, which has become a trademark. And he -- and this evening, what we're seeing in these entrance polls is that he does well with women, he does well with values voters, and that's an important constituency in Iowa.

KING: And timing is everything, though. Can he sustain it now when he moves on as a serious candidate?

BORGER: Right. Right.

KING: They will say he was big for earmarks when he was in Congress. The Tea Party doesn't like that. He voted for the Medicare prescription drug benefit. The Tea Party views that as a big entitlement. He peaked at the right time, before anybody could turn their fire on him.

All these other guys who peaked, then they got the target.


BORGER: No more debates. No more debates, right?

KING: Well, there's one in New Hampshire on Saturday.


BORGER: Right.


KING: Oh, in this part, yes.


BORGER: Right, but in this interregnum, he wasn't challenged.

GERGEN: But he won't be at the edge of the debate anymore. He will actually be at the center of it.

COOPER: He will be the focus of it, which changes the whole dynamic.

We should talk about support for Ron Paul among -- one of the things that Ron Paul likes to tout is his support among active-duty military personnel. He says he receives in terms of financial donations twice as all the other candidates combined.

We heard from an active-duty soldier Dana Bash was talking to. We lost the satellite link, which I think probably a lot of people online think was some sort of conspiracy.


COOPER: But it is interesting. That's one of the things that his fellow Republicans have attacked him for, saying his foreign policy is dangerous, and yet we have this active-duty soldier giving soldier.

GERGEN: It's interesting. Within the military itself, you find a lot of people who feel that both the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan have been badly executed. It's not unlike Vietnam.

There were a lot of people that came home from Vietnam who were really angry about the way it was executed. And a fair number of those people are among the -- are military people saying, bring them home. You know, this isn't working, let's come home. It's interesting, because we have this sort of monolithic view of the military, they all...


GERGEN: As you know from all those trips, they're very different when you actually talk to them.

BURNETT: Anderson, we were talking too about whether Rick Santorum or Ron Paul had the same power in the establishment. And I was talking about our strike team, how they seemed to believe that both of them would.

But when it comes to Ron Paul specifically, Bill Gross, who I talked to, who is the biggest manager of bonds in this country, said, specifically, the reason that he would support him was cutting the deficit, but because he's pulling troops out, and listing all the different places.

And of the other major investors, major CEOs who see merit in Ron Paul, yes, they think, getting rid of the Fed, that's a -- quote, unquote -- "crazy idea," some of them would say. But they really believe in his cutting the deficit and pro-capitalism, and there is a mainstream, or shall we call it establishment group that would support him or support Rick Santorum.

COOPER: I understand, Wolf, we're getting...


BLITZER: Yes, we're getting some new numbers. Let me go over to the vote board over here -- 49 percent of the precincts have now reported, almost half. And look at this, Rick Santorum establishing a lead of 350 votes ahead of Mitt Romney, 13,501 to 13,151. They're both at 24 percent, Ron Paul not very far behind, 12,146 at 22 percent, Newt Gingrich a different fourth with 13 percent, 7,368, Rick Perry only 10 percent, 5,600 votes, Michele Bachmann, 6 percent.

Very disappointing night for Michele Bachmann. She was born in Iowa, raised in Iowa, represents a district in Minnesota that's right next door. Unfortunately for her, she's not doing very well in these caucuses. Jon Huntsman didn't really campaign. He's going full speed ahead in New Hampshire. We will see how he does a week from today in New Hampshire.

Anderson, it's still way, way too close to call. Oh, there you are, over there.


COOPER: I keep moving around here, a very dynamic night here.

The map is starting to populate in terms of the population centers. What are we seeing now?

KING: What we're seeing is, A., more of the counties filling in. This part of the state is very important. Again, the split. Four years ago, this was Mike Huckabee country, one county for Romney, one county for Romney here. This is your Tea Party, evangelical vote. Mike Huckabee took it all four years ago.

We have got a split this time. The lighter pink color there, that is Ron Paul. The dark red is Mitt Romney, and the purple is Rick Santorum. We have a three-way race here. Earlier, I told you Michele Bachmann was winning one county. That was this county up here, Howard County. Rick Santorum now has the lead there with 80 percent of the vote counted.

So Michele Bachmann is on track right now to not even win one Iowa county. Newt Gingrich is carrying this county up here right now, 50 percent of the vote in, but as you can see, pretty close. We will watch the vote come in.

But, Anderson, right now, almost half of the precincts counted. You have got this tiny lead. And so we will watch this play out. I told you earlier, when you have such a close race, you have to focus on the big population centers. By Iowa standards, that means here, Polk County, only 37 percent of the vote counted right here right now. Ron Paul is winning, but by the tiniest margin, Mitt Romney not that far behind.

We need to watch this. This will be key. This is where the most votes are still outstanding tonight, in the center of the state, by the state capital.

Then you come over here, Dubuque, 3 percent of the population here, about 44 percent of the vote counted. Romney is ahead there. One of the things we will do throughout the night, Romney tonight, match it up to Romney four years ago. He had 42 percent there four years ago, just 33 percent now. He needs to continue to lead in this county if he wants to pull this one out.

Another population center, Davenport and Cedar Rapids here. Here is our biggest question still remaining tonight. In the western part of the state, look at the open areas right here. This is a very conservative part of the state. And right here, these are mostly small counties, half-a-percent, 1 percent of the vote.

But, right here, where Sioux City is, Woodbury County, 3.5 percent of the population. You watch the western part fill in. If the margins stay the same in all these counties here -- we're at 46 percent -- if the margins stay roughly the same in this part of the state, it is the conservative western part of the state that could well settle this race, Anderson.

We're watching the math come in. It is just a fascinating time. And as you look at the colors, we had a two-way race four years ago, a three-way race now. We're going to be at this a while.

COOPER: Yes, just a couple hundred votes right now separating the top three.

Let's check in with Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist and CNN contributor, also Erick Erickson, CNN contributor and editor in chief of They're at Santorum headquarters.

It looks a lot more crowded. Looks like a lot more excitement there or energy there since last time we talked. They have got to be excited about what they're seeing in the polls, and clearly waiting for some of those votes still to come in from the northwestern part of the state, from Sioux City and elsewhere.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, finally voters are starting to outnumber media here. So, yes, you can feel a little bit of excitement.

But there's a lot of good news here for Rick Santorum, for example. It appears he's doing well enough that he will get attacked by Rick Perry next week in South Carolina. It looks like Mitt Romney has done well enough that he's going to get attacked by Newt Gingrich in New Hampshire. And it appears Ron Paul has done well enough that he's going to get to attack everybody everywhere next week.

So we have got a tough three-front war here that has broken out in Iowa tonight. And one thing we -- I think we're learning is that that big turnout that Republicans were hoping for, were hoping to send a message to President Obama, hey, that Republicans are motivated, we may not get that tonight.

It looks like this is going to be a turnout somewhere on the level of the last election for Republicans. So it's like going to the movies. Nobody says, hey, I want to go to the movies tonight, but I just don't know which movie I want to see. That large undecided vote is going to give us, I think, less turnout than the 150,000 people had hoped for.

COOPER: Erick, we heard a lot of angry rhetoric today on the campaign trail, Santorum calling Ron Paul disgusting, Newt Gingrich calling Romney a liar.

Do you think, to Alex's point, that that tough rhetoric continues now and just amplifies in the days ahead? Or do they take a step back somehow?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, absolutely, I think it continues.

I think they get into South Carolina now. Forget New Hampshire. They go to South Carolina, and it gets uglier. And South Carolina is always ugly. Let's not forget what happened to Nikki Haley when she ran two years ago. South Carolina is historically ugly.

It's going to be real ugly. But there's a sense of blood in the water from a lot of conservative activists tonight, online and offline, that Mitt Romney spent a lot of money in 2008, he spent a lot of money this time, and he hasn't really moved his number. If anything, it's gone down a little bit.

Conservative activists are thinking, maybe now people will realize, this isn't the guy we want. They're just not sure yet that Santorum is the guy they want to go to.

COOPER: Well, Erick, you have been tough on Santorum for the last couple of weeks or so, reading your tweets. What do you make of his numbers tonight and what does this mean moving forward?

ERICKSON: It means he was the last man standing after all the other candidates were vetted.

I think because of what happened with Ron Paul tonight, because of Iowa in general, the way it's turned, everyone in South Carolina is probably going to get another look. I'm not sure they're going to be ready for it. I'm not sure that they have money.

Does Rick Perry have money after spending so much in Iowa to thank get 10 percent? Does Gingrich have money? Santorum doesn't have the money yet, but it will start flowing in. Will he be able to use it wisely? Time will tell. South Carolina's going to be very, very fun this political season.

CASTELLANOS: And, Anderson, I think even though Mitt Romney may not have gotten the numbers tonight that I think some people expected -- and they did raise expectations here at the end of this campaign -- he'd still tell you that, looking at this field, that Republicans at the end of the day are probably not going to nominate a Ron Paul, and it's going to be very tough for a Rick Santorum to bring the entire party together.

You know, there was an early survey when it was just Mitt Romney and -- and Rick Perry.


CASTELLANOS: I almost forgot, talking about Rick Perry there.


CASTELLANOS: It was an early survey, just the two of them, when Perry was at his peak and running well, and it was 54 Romney, 39 Perry. Republicans are willing to go to Mitt Romney. It's just more of an arranged marriage than love.

ERICKSON: The Romney ceiling has got to be the big story out of Iowa.

COOPER: Well, we're going to check back in with you guys, Erick Erickson, Alex Castellanos, at Rick Santorum headquarters.

We're learning more about how the race looks in the months ahead tonight, again, more votes coming in. We continue to follow it.

We will be right back.


BLITZER: Let me update you right now on what's going on. We've got official numbers. Almost half of the precincts have reported, 49 percent, and Rick Santorum is ahead, by 390 votes, ahead of Mitt Romney, 13,594 to 13,204. They both have 24 percent.

Ron Paul's almost up there with 12,205, 22 percent. Newt Gingrich, only 13 percent. Rick Perry, 10 percent. Michele Bachmann, 6 percent. And Jon Huntsman, only 1 percent.

I want to check in with Jessica Yellin. She's in Des Moines, watching what's going on. She's our chief White House correspondent. You know, even while the Republicans had their caucuses, the Democrats had some caucuses, as well, even though no one is challenging President Obama.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They do, Wolf, have their own caucuses, because this will be a swing state that the president will fight hard to win in November, but in Chicago and in the White House, no doubt, they're watching what happens here tonight. And these results, already, are results that could put a smile on the president's teams' faces.

Because you know, the people I talk to, my sources, expect that Mitt Romney will ultimately be the nominee. They expect that Mitt Romney, in the end, will be the person that the president will face in the general election. And so far, what we're seeing in these results say to them that Mitt Romney, in their view, is a weak candidate, that it will be a protracted primary battle for him, because these are results, in their view, that can't make him win with quickly. That there's too much of a divided support, as you've heard from so many of the people already. And that, really, if he were going to somehow pull ahead, he needed at least, say, around 45 percent support tonight. So what they think they're looking at is a more drawn-out battle, which is just fine with them, because, of course, an incumbent president wants to sit in the White House and wait as long as he can before he faces a challenger.

The other thing they're going to be looking at, Wolf, though, is turnout tonight. And remember, the Republicans got 120,000 people out to the caucuses last time around. The Democrats got 240,000 people out to those caucuses that made President Obama leap to the front of the pack. They want to see if they -- Republicans, in this cycle, can turn 240,000 or break that 200,000 number and get that kind of enthusiasm this year. So they'll be looking to see how big the turnout is at these caucuses.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right, Jessica, because that will underscore enthusiasm, how many Republicans actually show up at these caucuses.

Stand by for a moment. I want to go over to John King.

You know, you're looking at these numbers, and Jessica makes a pretty good point. We heard from a lot of Republican leaders like the governor, there would be a big turnout. Are we seeing that?

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: I love this tonight, because we're getting the first votes of the 2012 cycle. We're also getting our first case of the serious spin cycle, if you will.

There was no way Mitt Romney was ever going to get 45 percent, but don't blame the Obama people for spinning, "Well, he needs 45 percent." That's what happens in politics.

Two hundred thousand Republicans? Never happened in the Iowa caucuses. But what will happen tonight? This is hard to guess. Fifty-two percent of the precincts -- this is a precinct number, not the votes counted right now. And if you add all this up, you'll get in the ballpark. And I did this rough math in my head, so if you'll do it quickly at home, you'll find me wrong. A ballpark of about 60,000 votes.

Now, if you double that -- this is precincts -- you get 120,000. We can't say that. Because we don't know. Some of these precincts will be 20 people. Some of these precincts will be hundreds of people. So we need to see.

If you're looking at this, you could guess that they're roughly on track to match what happened four years ago, in the 120, 118,000 range. But that's a guess. We'll see as this plays out.

But Jessica does make an important point. Even Republicans say the intensity gap early on, they want to see that the Tea Party enthusiasm of 2010 carries over to 2012. So we want to see that number at the end. That isn't it.

But Wolf, when you watch this right now, again, you see a slight Santorum lead. There's a couple things you look for in the dynamics. Four years ago, we had a two-man race. Ron Paul won one county. This is Mike Huckabee. That's Mitt Romney.

If you look at now, you have a three-man race. Newt Gingrich is winning one county. One of the big stories tonight, regardless of how we end up in the end, Ron Paul won one county. We don't have the results from that county, Jefferson County yet. It's a tiny county. They're not in yet, but look at all that orange or pink, depending on how your color TV shows it at home. Ron Paul has spread the map tonight, including over here, in sort of a very important part of the state.

Watch this here. Watch this line I'm drawing. You see Ron Paul. You see a little Rick Santorum just to the west of where I drew the line. That's Mitt Romney there. Why does that matter? Well, you do a then and now. Four years ago, that was Romney country. That was it. He came in second in the state, a disappointing second, to Mike Huckabee, but he carried this area very strongly. He's struggling a bit there tonight. So that's an indication that Romney's having a harder time.

Now let's come back to 2012, again, and look at the map. This to me is still the biggest impact of the night. We're missing. We're missing the votes out here in the western part of the state. Woodbury County, where Sioux City is, 3.5 percent of the population.

Some of these counties have a lot of Democrats. You say, oh, it's 5 percent of the population, but you know it's a Democratic county. This is conservative Republican country. We don't have any votes yet.

Four years ago, Mitt Romney carried it by a pretty good margin, 15 percent, over Mike Huckabee. Not that many votes four years ago. So let's see: is the turnout up in this conservative area? And who wins?

When you come back to 2012, this is the area of the state that, if it stays this close, as we get out to the west, now especially that we're filling in these smaller rural counties in the middle. I just want to show you one 1.3 percent. Marshall County, we're waiting for that.

That actually is a relatively large county when you get into this part of the state, 1.4 percent. Webster County, we're waiting for that. This is key.

If Rick Santorum is going to pull it out, he's got to turn the rest of the middle of the map purple. If Ron Paul's going to pull this out, he needs to contest here. If Romney is going to pull this out, he needs to improve his standings as they start counting the votes. In Dubuque, 3 percent. Only 4 percent of the precincts counted.

So Romney is ahead here. If he keeps that margin when the rest of this comes in, it is one of the larger population centers in the state. He could make up the votes in places like this.

But, Wolf, we're up to 54 percent. The pace is starting to pick up. We'll keep up with the math.

BLITZER: Let me go back to the wall and take a closer look at these numbers right now. More than half of the precincts reporting, 54 percent.

And Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, maintaining a slight lead over Mitt Romney by 401 votes, 14,606 to 14,205.

Ron Paul third, not that far behind, 13,145. Newt Gingrich, a distant fourth, only 13 percent, 8,081.

Let's take a look at the bottom three right now. Still in the bottom three, Rick Perry, only 10 percent, 6,200 votes. Michele Bachmann, very disappointing, 6 percent., 3,359. And Jon Huntsman, 1 percent, 324 votes.

Fifty-four percent of the actual vote is now in, in Iowa, and Rick Santorum, Anderson, is still ahead. So it's a pretty good night for Rick Santorum. No matter what happens, when the 46 percent of the precincts that still haven't reported come in.

COOPER: It certainly is. Ari Fleischer, last night on my program, you predicted Rick Santorum was actually going to win.

FLEISCHER: Yes, I just had a feeling. When you look at Iowa and you talk to people in Iowa, even though he doesn't have a good organization out there, you can just feel a shift, and the anti-Romney vote was segmenting towards him.

And here's what's next for Rick Santorum. This is going to break his back. All of a sudden now with no time and no staff, he has to raise a ton of money, withstand a ton of attacks, hire staff, and meanwhile, every week, there's another race, almost. It's going to be very hard for Rick Santorum to really be able to pick this up and take advantage of it. The burden on a candidate now is massive. And he doesn't have an infrastructure.

COOPER: James, as a Democratic strategist, how does the Obama White House view this race tonight?

CARVILLE: Well, look, a broken clock is right twice a day. Political spin can be right about that often. The spin that the White House is happy is absolutely true. What Jessica said, it's indisputable.

For this night, I don't know what it means, but if you look at these results, you look at the way the turnout looks, you look at the way that Romney looks as being the eventual nominee, they couldn't be happier.

COOPER: Because the field is divided?

CARVILLE: The field is divided. There is 150,000 people showing up, probably won't happen. Ari is exactly right on the conversation. John made the same thing. But this is not going to -- this is not going to blow anybody's mind in terms of turnout. Romney may end up winning, who knows, as Davenport comes in, but it's not going to be a very impressive performance. Everybody's going to go on to fight another day. And they're can hardly accuse me of being a White House lackey, but these guys are justifiably happy tonight.

MARTIN: Anderson, I've got to push back a little bit, Ari. I love your tie, but a couple things push me wrong there.

First of all, if you are Rick Santorum, South Carolina, January 21; Florida, January 31; Nevada, February 4 You look at the poll numbers, how well Mitt Romney is doing in New Hampshire. Clearly, you want to focus and put out your economic message when it comes to New Hampshire, but this is also a matter of strategy.

And if you're Rick Santorum, you want to be able to make a play in those other three states. So it's not necessarily all about, I need to quickly make something happen next week, because you have to say, "Wait a minute, I could potentially be the guy who is, indeed, the anti-Romney."

So he focused on Iowa. He said, "I need to do well here." He's done that. He now can have a longer strategy...

COOPER: But he's not the only guy who wants to be the anti- Romney.

MARTIN: Obviously.

LOESCH: He's not going to be able to...

MARTIN: But if Perry's 10 percent tonight...

LOESCH: There's no way that he can. He can start fund-raising off of Iowa immediately, but he has no apparatus outside of Iowa.

MARTIN: I've got you, but he also -- he also did not...

LOESCH: He's not going to last. The attacks, when they start looking at his record as senator...

MARTIN: I understand. I understand. But we didn't expect him to be where he is tonight. So we can make assumptions, but again, you still have to play this in terms of long ball, not simply what we think is going to happen.

COOPER: When you talk about how the Obama White House sees these numbers, as a Tea Party activist, how do you see this divided field now?

LOESCH: It's incredibly frustrating. Because you see a strategy in play here. You see some really good conservative candidates. And then you -- it's almost as if you have four or five candidates, who are constantly campaigning against Romney and what many perceive to be the GOP establishment. We had the little -- the little dustup going on with Virginia and ballot access, and that was incredibly frustrating. Now you have lawsuits going on, on behalf of Perry. Others are joining in.

So it's frustrating as a grassroots activist when you see candidates who embody everything that you have protested against for the past three years up in the top tier. And when you see one of those candidates, it's great that Rick Santorum is strong on social issues. That's what driving him in Iowa. That's not going to win him a general election or the nomination.

FLEISCHER: Here's the fundamental truth that's drove this entire Republican race for Mitt Romney. So long as there's a multiple number of candidates in the field, Mitt Romney divides and conquers. That is the whole issue. If it comes down to one candidate against Mitt Romney, particularly in South Carolina, one candidate could beat him. But I don't see any scenario where it's a one-on-one in South Carolina.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's what Rick Perry is hoping for, but...

CARVILLE: This thing Saturday night, this debate, I wouldn't -- I'm not going to miss the Saints game, but I'm going to come back and get some snippets of it. This is going to be a big deal, because Gingrich is going to be smoking mad. They're going to all be facing each other, and it's going to have some kind of determination. Because these people in New Hampshire are going to be watching this.

And by the way, I really agree with you, Ari: they're going to tear the bark off of Santorum when this thing comes down. He's not ready for what he's getting...

FLEISCHER: He's got to be a much better debater. He debates as a mean, whiney guy, so he's got to improve on that.

MARTIN: If there's one thing we learned, we always talked about Mitt Romney, how he was not going to do well with social conservatives in Iowa. At the end of the day, you run the game. You do not know what's going to happen. So we can sit here and say that it will not happen. That's why you stay in; that's why you stay focused. So I'm not writing Santorum off, as he can't make it happen. Not going to do it.

COOPER: People were writing Gingrich off, you know...

MARTIN: Precisely.

COOPER: But look what happened then.

When we come back, new information coming in about the battle for the votes in western Iowa. Very important out there. Stay with us.


BLITZER: All right. Three-fourths of all the vote is in. Take a look at this, almost 75 percent of the precincts reporting. Seventy-nine percent, I should say. It just changed. Almost 80 percent.

And Mitt Romney, Romney has now taken the lead, barely, 492 votes ahead of Rick Santorum. They both have 25 percent of the vote: 24,626 for Mitt Romney; Rick Santorum, 24,134.

Ron Paul coming in third so far with 79 percent of the precincts reporting, 21 percent. He's got 21,000 votes. Newt Gingrich is a distant fourth, only 13 percent, only 13,000 votes.

Look at this: Rick Perry, about 10 percent, 10,000 votes. About 5,000 votes for Michele Bachmann, 5 percent. Jon Huntsman, 570 votes.

But Mitt Romney taking a very, very slight lead, 21 percent of the precincts still outstanding.

Let's go to Erica (ph) and Gloria. What's going on over here? Because you're looking closely at these numbers. Santorum was ahead. Now slightly, slightly, Mitt Romney ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's right. We've been looking as it's flip-flopped around, and each of the leaders and why. Now let's look at Mitt Romney and where his strength is coming from.

Two key things we want to hone in on of our 19 categories. We asked them, what's the most important candidate quality? Can defeat Obama. We're going to look at that one in more detail in a moment. Thirty-one percent of caucus-goers told us that was the most important thing.

True conservative, 25 percent. I'm going to tell you right now, those voters went overwhelmingly for Ron Paul.

Strong moral character, a quarter of voters said that was most important. And I'll tell you right now, that went overwhelmingly for Rick Santorum.

The right experience, 16 percent, and that is a really interesting one, also helping Romney.

We're going to break those down. But best experience for a president, and this is where you see the Romney strength. Thirty- seven percent of caucus-goers say working in government, working in business. Fifty-three percent say that's the most important thing.

So let's flick it over. Wasn't looking for the flick. You missed the flick. All right. And this is where you see. So most people cared about this, and overwhelming.

BORGER: Well, this has been Romney's key message. He has been saying, "I'm the outsider. I've got the business experience. I know how to fix the government. You do not want an insider like, say, Newt Gingrich was, Michele Bachmann was. You need somebody -- or Perry in government. You need somebody outside of government." Santorum was a senator, is no longer. So there you go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And 53 percent of voters say that that was the most important...

BORGER: And if Romney were to win tonight, that would be the key to his success.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wolf? My wall had a little problem.

BLITZER: You know what? We've got new numbers. Let's take a look at this.

All of a sudden, 88 percent -- the votes are coming in very quickly. Eighty-eight percent are now in, and look at this. Rick Santorum taking a slightly -- 45 votes just ahead of Mitt Romney, 26,443 to 26,398. They've been going back and forth. But Rick Santorum, a slight advantage over Mitt Romney, very slight, about as slight as could be.

Ron Paul, third with 22,728. He's got 21 percent. Newt Gingrich is still at 13 percent. Rick Perry, 10 percent. Michele Bachmann down to 5 percent. One percent for Jon Huntsman.

But look at how close it is between the former -- the former Pennsylvania senator, Rick Santorum, the former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney, and Ron Paul, the Texas congressman not all that far behind. Still 12 percent of the precincts outstanding. But this is close, close, close.

Let's take a look at the headquarters of these three candidates right now. Romney headquarters, the place is full. Believe in America. They're standing there, they're watching TV. If they're hearing me say anything, go ahead and wave to that CNN screen, because I'm waving at you, Mitt Romney folks over there in the headquarters.

Take a look at Rick Santorum headquarters, faith, family, and freedom, they're waving over there, as well. Rick Santorum headquarters, they're going to wait and hear from Rick Santorum.

All of these candidates will eventually speak.

Ron Paul, restore America now. Take a look at this, Ron Paul headquarters. They've got balloons ready to go. He's coming in, he's running a slight third right now.

But let's go back to Romney headquarters. They're waving. You know why they're waving? Because they're watching us. I'm waving at you guys right now, as well. The Mitt Romney folks.

This is a close race between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. We'll hear from them. It's interesting what's going, John. You know, it reminds me of some pretty close contests. Somebody just e-mailed me and says, how does it feel that I can't project, that we at CNN can't project a winner after all -- it feels great, because I love the -- finding out the old-fashioned way. Let them count the votes.

KING: What would you like for breakfast?

BLITZER: They're coming in pretty quickly right now. KING: We can say this with certainty. One word that will not be used by the winner tonight is "decisive." There's no one who's going to say they won a decisive Iowa victory. Look at the map right now.

But you're seeing this, Wolf, 88 percent of the precincts reporting. Remember, we had a lot of open spaces. Rick Santorum has filled in most of the middle. Again, to go back in time, that was Mike Huckabee country four years ago. Ron Paul, though, picking up some of these counties. If Rick Santorum comes a few votes short tonight, it will be because of Ron Paul's strength right here.

Can Ron Paul come back? You see he's in third place right now. Looks like a big leap. One of the most important areas to watch, Story County. College campus here. Only 2 percent of the precincts reporting.

So if you're a Ron Paul supporter, it's beginning to look a little difficult to win, but let's count the votes. We'll see how that happens here.

As I said earlier, in a close race, you look where the votes are. Remember, early on, Ron Paul was leading. Polk County, where Des Moines is, look at that now. Dark red. Mitt Romney, a couple thousand votes, a little short, a thousand votes plus a little bit lead there. That could prove decisive. Romney came back in Des Moines in the suburbs from early in the evening.

And Wolf, Rick, again, 2008, this is Romney county, right out here in the western part of the state. Right now Rick Santorum giving him a run for his money. We talked about Woodbury County earlier, this is the largest county in the western part of the state. About 60 percent of the precincts in. We don't know whether there are bigger precincts out or not. We'll watch as this one plays out.

Now, what you have right now, the projection, the turnout. We talked about the intensity gap. The projection is we'll get about 120 to 125,000 voters tonight. A hundred and eighteen, 119,000 four years ago. So a slight uptick for the Republicans.

Is that enough to say we have high turnout, we have a big intensity gap this time? Many Democrats will say no. The Republicans will say it's an improvement.

One other point I want to make as we watch this play out. If we have this close race tonight, right, let's look at candidate visits. Want to come out. Let's close this down. Let's take away the demographics here. This is Rick Santorum. You see him everywhere. He visited all 99 counties. Look at him out here in the western part of the state that Mitt Romney carried four years ago.

Now, let's look at Governor Romney. He visited Iowa this cycle the least. Yes, he visited a lot four years ago. Yes, he spent $10 million. But of the candidates who visited Iowa in this cycle, it was Romney the least.

Santorum tonight is going to claim doing it the old-fashioned way has helped. And if you close this down and just come back and look, we're filling in the map at 88 percent. Wow. Just wow. And we're going to look at who's left. You look at these open counties, there's no votes here, tiny counties. They could make a difference. In a very close race, they could make difference. A lot of people are asking on Twitter, who's green? Green's a tie. If you see a green on the map, that's a tie. Again, a very, very small county there. But 88 percent, few key places to watch. This part of the state still likely to prove decisive.

BLITZER: And you know, John, there's no doubt that Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, they're all heading to New Hampshire next week. Jon Huntsman's already there. The question is, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, what are they going to decide, based on these disappointing numbers for themselves?

KING: All three said, coming into tonight, they're moving on. This was just discussed a short time ago. Newt Gingrich has already bought an advertisement in the "New Hampshire Union-Leader" tomorrow. A sharp contrast, a tough contrast with Governor Romney.

He's mad. He thinks the Romney PAC attacked him unfairly out here. He's going to carry on, at least for one more state.

I talked to Governor Perry today. He's not going to New Hampshire. He's flying straight to Akens, South Carolina, in the morning. When they reassess after tonight, Governor Perry is just barely in double digits. If he falls into single digits, everything could be reconsidered. But he says he's staying in. She says she's staying in. This is the biggest disappointment of the night. We'll have to watch whether Michele Bachmann stays in much longer.

BLITZER: John, stand by. We'll take a quick break. But you know what? These numbers are changing very, very rapidly. The official count is coming in. There's only a few precincts left out there. We're taking a closer look. Stay with us, because we should have some answers fairly soon.


BLITZER: Let me update you right now on what's going on. These are official votes, because 88 percent of the precincts have now reported. And look at how close it is.

Rick Santorum, look at this, he's 13 votes ahead of Mitt Romney, 26,552 to 26,539. Both 25 percent.

Ron Paul is coming in a distant third. Not necessarily a distant third, but a significant third, 22,821, with 21 percent.

Newt Gingrich, I should say, is a distant fourth, 13 percent, 14,300 or so.

Rick Perry, he's 10 percent with 11,100. Michele Bachmann, 5,500, only 5 percent. Jon Huntsman, 1 percent. Those are the official numbers with 88 percent of the precincts reporting. All right. We can make a projection, a projection of sort, not necessarily the kind of projection we normally make, but CNN now projects who will come in third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh. We can't project who comes in first or second, because you saw how close it is between Santorum and Romney.

But we do project here at CNN that Ron Paul will come in third, Newt Gingrich will come in fourth, Rick Perry will come in fifth, Michele Bachmann will come in sixth, and Jon Huntsman in Iowa will come in seventh. We can't project who wins or who comes in second, because it is about as close as possible with 88 percent of the precincts reporting.

Anderson Cooper is standing by. Anderson, this is a tight race.

COOPER: It certainly is. We didn't think we would go this long. You say, either way, it's not a bad night for Romney, Ari?

FLEISCHER: I think you have to give Mitt Romney credit. Mitt Romney did not run hard in Iowa, didn't play in the straw poll. He came in late when he saw the opening. And he may finish first tonight.

Mitt Romney, being a Mormon, it was said he couldn't do well in a state that was 60 percent evangelical. I think you've got to give him credit. He's been a good debater; he's been solid; he's been steady. I think he's showing if he is the nominee, he's got the ability to do things well and do things right against Barack Obama, and for Republicans, that means a lot.

So no matter who wins, whether it's Santorum or Romney, I think you've got to give Romney credit.

COOPER: James?

CARVILLE: I'll politely but vehemently disagree. The guy spent more money than anybody else, that thing with attacking Gingrich, with 45 percent of Rick Perry come close to with this...

COOPER: The super PAC?

CARVILLE: He was front-runner the whole way, got 25 percent of the vote, which was the same thing he got in 2008, and this was a much weaker field. This was a bad night -- he's going to be the nominee, but this is not a good -- Mitt Romney looks weak tonight.