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Mitt Romney Edges Rick Santorum in Iowa by 8 Votes

Aired January 4, 2012 - 04:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you and welcome to an early edition of EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin, and along with Ashleigh Banfield, bringing you the news from A to Z.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: If you're just waking up, wow, what a story we have for you. It was kind of a nail-biter all night long. In fact, I'm kind of looking for SERVPRO, because this is the Election Center and it just cleared out real quickly because we just got these results in.

Absolutely breathtaking and record-breaking as well, guys. If you're following the math, Mitt Romney by a nose. That's the real math. Mitt Romney by a nose, the real winner in the caucuses, though it may have certainly been Rick Santorum who truly, within eight votes, just missed the top spot.

Take a look at those numbers on your leader board. It's just absolutely miraculous. The closest Iowa Caucus vote in history. The top four, Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul, and Newt Gingrich.

SAMBOLIN: And it didn't become official until about 2:30 Eastern time this morning if you were watching. So we have Romney congratulating Santorum. And he says that he and Santorum are actually both winners. And both candidates are looking forward now to New Hampshire, they say.

BANFIELD: But what's great about this is the story that comes out of such an incredibly close finish because, you know what, it's about momentum, and it's about money, and it's about headlines. And those headlines tonight are bizarro.

In fact, Christine Romans, you've been breaking down these headlines, these numbers. In fact, we all were sort of like on the edge of our seats because we weren't exactly sure what this big story was going to be today, and the story is the story itself, right, it's the clincher, the squeaker.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And the Santorum surge that continued and also what Iowa voters were thinking. We have a better idea, you guys, because of entrance polling at these caucus sites. They were asked a whole bunch of questions. Here are some of them you can see.

A lot of different questions they were asked on their way in to cast their vote. And one of the questions that was asked was, what's the most important quality for a candidate? You can see, they said right experience, a strong moral character. They were looking for a true conservative, these Iowa Republicans.

And they were also looking for someone who could defeat Obama, 31 percent said they were looking for someone that could defeat Obama. So who are these voters who were voting for somebody because it was the most important candidate who could defeat Obama? Let's take a look.

We can slick it over here. Isn't this great, these little toys, you guys? OK. The most important candidate quality, can defeat Obama. That vote went to Romney, 48 percent. And Newt Gingrich, who didn't fare well overall, wasn't in the top three, of course, but 20 percent of people who were voting for the most important candidate quality, defeating the president, they cast their vote for Newt Gingrich.

Rick Santorum, 13 percent, Ron Paul, Perry, Bachmann, and Huntsman. So we have got an awful lot of this entrance polling data for you. We can tell you we have a very good idea now of what Iowa voters were actually thinking and doing in those caucus sites. We'll be able to analyze it for you throughout the morning, you guys.

SAMBOLIN: Nice work. Boy, you've got your morning cut out for you. We're really looking forward to it. It's kind of fun to use those, right, and to understand what people were thinking.

ROMANS: Look, I'm no John King, but I'll do my best over here.

SAMBOLIN: You are so much prettier.

BANFIELD: I'm just going to go on record, you are way hotter.

All right. So let's go first to CNNRadio reporter Lisa Desjardins, she is live in Des Moines, Iowa. You're going to tell us a little bit about how people voted. What actually happened? This was a nail- biter 'til 2:30 in the morning. Was it one precinct we were waiting for?

LISA DESJARDINS, CNNRADIO CORRESPONDENT: How about that, Zoraida? There was one precinct we were waiting for. It was in Clinton County, Iowa. That's over in the east. You know, guys, I looked them up, and Clinton County is actually most famous for at one point having the largest sawmill in the world, setting records with their, I think, fire response team.

What seems to have happened, why this took so long is there was that one precinct with results that apparently the state headquarters didn't tabulate. I spoke myself to the now famous Edith Pfeffer, the chairwoman of the Clinton County Republicans, spoke with her. She said, hey, we turned in those results not long after 7:00, sometime around 7:40, 7:50.

The problem, guys, seems to be that there were some tabulating issues here in Des Moines with the state headquarters. I guess they didn't realize that they didn't have those numbers. And this might happen a lot in elections. Usually it all gets squared away the next day.

But, of course, here we were with an election resting on just a handful of votes. So every single precinct mattered. And when they discovered they were missing a couple, we had to wait and track down each one.

Also, and then you can see and you're hearing video from, of course, all of the various candidate parties. Zoraida and Ashleigh, it was so interesting because here were these ballrooms full of supporters all night waiting to see their candidates, and the candidates really weren't sure what to say for a while, especially Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney.

They finally came out before the final results when it was clear that this was virtually a tie. Back to you.

BANFIELD: All right, Lisa, thank you very much for that.

So, of course, this would be a critical time to chop it up, figure out what exactly happened. It is a photo finish, but there's a bigger story to this than the photo finish. We've got a couple of fantastic analysts. I figure like Mark Preston probably hasn't slept in about eight months.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Nine, right? Well, we have nine more months to deal with this.

BANFIELD: Yes, don't get too comfy, I suppose, especially with a finish like this. John Avlon also joining us to talk about these numbers, Newsweek columnist, and The Daily Beast columnist as well. And Ruben Navarrette, he's in San Diego, California.

OK. So photo finish, yes. I have two ideas going on in my very small brain. And this is what I can analyze. It's the story of ouch for Newt Gingrich and out for the bottom three. Is that so off the mark?

PRESTON: Ouch for Newt Gingrich, but we knew that was going to happen. We saw him drop in the polls in the past couple of weeks. He had such a meteoric rise at the beginning of December, and then negative advertising took him down.

Michele Bachmann tonight, though, didn't say she was going to get out. We were all -- I was prepared to send out a tweet that said Michele Bachmann has said that she will leave. I had to pull it back down even before I hit send because she then said she was going to stay in the race. And then, you know, a short time after that Rick Perry, the Texas governor, said he's going to go back home and reassess his campaign.

BANFIELD: Did you tweet that one?

PRESTON: I did tweet that one. But it wasn't as dramatic though, but, I mean, how can he get back in the race?

SAMBOLIN: And how can Michele drop out in her home state, right? I mean, that's kind of tough to say, I'm going to call it quits here.

PRESTON: Well, yes, certainly in politics, and John can speak to this a little bit, too, there's something to be said about waiting until tomorrow, getting the phone call from Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum, perhaps Newt Gingrich, asking for her support and then having her own concession speech her own night. Tonight was not her night.

BANFIELD: Concession speeches are usually kind of nice and conciliatory. And Newt Gingrich was anything but. I think we were kind of seeing flashes of the Newt Gingrich we've all been talking about. The guy who says I'm not going to run a nasty ad campaign got a little bit persnickety in his concession.

I don't know if we have that ready to go, but if we do, I want to play a little bit about what Newt Gingrich was saying. He's taking a potshot at not only the president, which I guess we all expect, but he is also taking potshots at the other candidates. Does this mean the end of Mr. Nice Guy?

PRESTON: It has to mean the end to Mr. Nice Guy if he wants to stay in the race. The fact of the matter is, he never defended himself over the past couple weeks. We saw millions of dollars in television ads that went after his character. It assassinated him down.

At this point if he wants to stay in, he has to appear like a fighter. His statesmanship helped get him to this point, because if we remember back in June, his campaign was over. He decided to be the statesman. He was on the 12-plus nationally televised debates because of the way he came across and said he was uniter for the Republican Party, that helped him get where he was by the middle of December.

However, the television advertising took him out. And if he wants to be viable again, he had better go after Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

SAMBOLIN: If we can bring John Avlon in, because everybody is calling it, of course, a victory for Mitt Romney, but he eked by. And so is this really a victory, John? What does this really mean?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's a very great and important question because people are using the phrase "virtual tie." But let's put this in larger context. Mitt Romney won by eight votes. Mitt Romney actually got six votes less than he got four years ago in Iowa. He's still the only man in...


AVLON: Yes, and millions of dollars. I mean, he outspent, if you add the associated PAC, he outspent Rick Santorum by millions and millions of dollars, not only negative ads, but organization, the establishment favorite, The Des Moines Register endorsement.

To beat Rick Santorum, who hadn't really even been on the map until a month ago, by eight points, that is a virtual tie, it's almost a moral victory for Rick Santorum. When you compare it to his 2008 totals, not only did he lose ground on the map, Mitt Romney won western counties in Iowa four years ago against Mike Huckabee. He didn't win them this year.

He did very well in the cities, especially Des Moines. But what's extraordinary is, is that his vote total is actually less than it was four years ago. Now, he's going into New Hampshire. New Hampshire is near hometown territory for Mitt Romney. It's not going to be nearly as friendly for Rick Santorum.

But one of the themes you see, that 75 percent of the Republican field that wants someone other than Mitt Romney, well, that still exists. Assuming Rick Perry gets out, it will be interesting see how that vote coalesces.

One other interesting fact, Michele Bachmann, she didn't get out last night, but she got only around 1,000 votes more than she got in the Ames, Iowa, Straw Poll back in August, which is an extraordinary stat when you think about it.

BANFIELD: I want to actually hear from Mitt Romney, because I know you've sort of been calling him -- John Avlon, you've been calling him sort of "Mr. 25 Percent," can't cut through that glass ceiling. What's going to happen with the splintered and fractious rest of the candidate group?

But, you know, for his part, what he has been doing all the way along, seemed to play through to his concession -- or rather his speech last night which essentially was, it's all about me taking on you, Mr. President. It's all about I'm going after Obama and not my fellow candidates. Have a listen to this.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You were working and I am working and we're all working together because of our passion for this country and our concern that it's being led by a president who may be a nice guy but just is over his head.

And you look -- I mean, I look at his campaign, you know, four years ago tonight, he was giving a victory celebration speech here in Des Moines. And he had been going across the state making all sorts of promises. The gap between his promises four years ago and his performance is as great as anything I've ever seen in my life.


BANFIELD: All right. So, Ruben Navarrette, is this going to continue to be the strategy for Mr. Romney as he moves to a state, New Hampshire, which he pretty much has a lock on, I think the last number said 43 percent lead, is that going to continue to be his strategy, just keep on going, just eye on the prize?

RUBEN NAVARRETTE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: At least half of the time. You're absolutely right. The strategy there you see is going after Obama. If Mitt Romney had had his druthers, he would have liked to go after Obama all throughout this campaign and not said a word about any of his opponents.

He didn't have that luxury though because he was hit first by Rick Perry very hard and then by Newt Gingrich. He had to respond to both of them by name. And he didn't like doing that. Now he wants to go back to his playbook and make this pretty much about Obama. The problem with that is that when you are still locked in a primary race, in this case with people nipping at your heels, you often don't have that luxury. You can ignore Rick Santorum all you want or Newt Gingrich all you want, but I assure you when they get to New Hampshire, they won't be ignoring Romney.

So he wants to have it both ways, he wants to focus on Obama, but he really doesn't have that luxury because they're closing in tight.

SAMBOLIN: Well, we're trying to figure out what the focus is on Santorum here. He was talking to Wolf earlier tonight. And he sounds really optimistic about moving forward in New Hampshire. And a lot of people say this is the real winner. Let's listen in.




SANTORUM: You, by standing up and not compromising, by standing up and being bold and leading, leading with that burden and responsibility you have to be first, you have taken the first step of taking back this country.


SANTORUM: This journey started officially just a few months ago in June when I stood on the steps of the county courthouse in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. I decided to go there, not the typical place someone announces for president. That's not where I was born. That's not where I ever lived. But it's where my grandfather came, back in 1925.

He came by himself even though he was married with two children, one of them being my father. He came after having fought in World War I because Mussolini had been in power now three years, and he had figured out that fascism was something that would crush his spirit and his freedom and give his children something less than he wanted for them.


BANFIELD: Sounds like the winner speech, not the concession speech.

SAMBOLIN: Do you know why? Because as he was delivering this, he was ahead. So that's why it sounds that way.

BANFIELD: That's so funny. I mean, we've enjoyed being up all night, which is not something I would normally say, getting prepared for a program, but watching the CNN Election Center team come in with these numbers.

Look at the teeny itsy bitsy numbers in the middle. This is what you've got to see. Yes, 25 percent and 25 percent, but Mitt Romney by a hair. Eight votes between 30,015 votes and Santorum, 30,007 votes. By the way, if you think that that is a record, we've got news for you. It is not. There is another record out there that even beats this one. We're going to talk about that and a whole lot more in just a moment right here from the CNN Election Center.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. We are at the CNN Election Center. Have you been up all night with us? Because it has been quite a nail-biter here. Let's take a look at the numbers. Eight votes actually separated these two men, Mitt Romney is declared the winner, 30,015 votes. Rick Santorum, 30,007.

Of course, they're both at 25 percent. Still Santorum is being called the real winner here. And our Christine Romans is actually working really hard for us this morning.

BANFIELD: She's our native Iowan. You're the Iowan. And if anybody knows Iowa, it's you, my friend. And there's a real breakdown on how people voted and we know this because we have these entrance polls where we can ask people questions as they're walking in. And not just what are you voting, why are you voting? So why were they voting certain ways?

ROMANS: So, look, we talked to people about what you're thinking and why you're voting and casting this vote on the way in right before they did it. We asked them all of these questions. What kind of experience they were looking for? When did you decide to support? We're going to go through all of these throughout the day.

But I want to take a look at this one, the best experience for president. If you look at this, it's so interesting, working in government, that's Santorum, working in business, that is Mitt Romney. I want to take a look at specifically how it breaks down if we take these over here.

Let's look at working in business. Obviously this was the Romney strong suit. People, 36 percent of those said, look, Romney is the guy because he can do it in a tough economy. Rick Santorum came in second, Ron Paul, Perry, Gingrich, Bachmann, and Huntsman. And then here you go, Santorum gets it if you're somebody who's voting because it's your time in Congress, actually, right? He's like -- been a politician for a very long time.

So that's how that sort of breaks down. But Romney clearly getting the vote from people who are looking for someone who has got business experience and that business experience is something that led the charge in Iowa.

It's also interesting when you look at the breakdown of income. People who had more money, the higher-income voters, went for Mitt Romney. People who were at the lower end of the pay scale went for Ron Paul.

Interesting probably because those are young people who don't have an income or have much less of an income, and the people more in the middle, the lunch bucket Republicans, a new kind of Republican vote in the Midwest, those people went to Rick Santorum. We'll keep breaking all this down for you.

BANFIELD: You know what, Christine, I've got to be honest with you. I'm still always confused about entrance polls because they're going in with an answer to our questions. And then they're being swayed by the delegates who -- and, you know, the captains who are telling them why they shouldn't do what they thought they were going to do.

ROMANS: You know, and I asked Sam Feist about this, you know, he's our big political guru here, yesterday he said there will be a few people who change their minds, but by the time you walk in, you're making your decision mostly before you walk in the door.

And then there's the trying to be swayed and the like, but those are the best gauge we have of what people were thinking when they came in and they cast their vote in there. Of course, there will be -- and that's why you do always tread cautiously with exit and entrance polls because there will be a few variations of what people said they were going to do and then did. But in this case, these look pretty clear that Santorum was given the benefit for having his government experience, and it was business experience for Mitt Romney.

BANFIELD: Yes. All right.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Christine.


SAMBOLIN: And as we're looking at Newt Gingrich there, with 21 percent, you know, he said he was going to play Mr. Nice Guy, right? Because he thought that that would work in his favor, so we heard a really different guy last night. Let's take a listen.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, one other great debate, and that is whether this party wants a Reagan conservative who helped change Washington in the 1980s with Ronald Reagan and helped change Washington in the 1990s as speaker of the house, somebody who is into changing Washington, or we want a Massachusetts moderate who, in fact, will be pretty good at managing the decay but has given no evidence in his years of Massachusetts of any ability to change the culture or change the political structure or change the government.


GINGRICH: Let me be clear because I think it's important given all the things that were done in this state over the last few weeks. We are not going to go out and run nasty ads. We're not going to go out and run 30-second gotchas. We're not...


GINGRICH: But I do reserve the right to tell the truth. And if the truth seems negative, that may be more a comment on his record than it is on politics. So this is going to be a debate that begins tomorrow morning in New Hampshire and will go on for a few months. And I'm convinced that the Republican Party will pick an heir of Reagan, a committed conservative and somebody with a track record of changing Washington.


BANFIELD: Ah, go figure. And I just happened to have Mr. Gingrich's ad in The New Hampshire Union Leader, which, by the way, endorsed him, which was a big deal for him. Yet he's really trailing in the New Hampshire polls. This is hard to read in black and white, and I apologize, so I'm going to read it for you.

It just says, "The Choice." And if this were in color, Newt Gingrich would be in color and Mitt Romney would not be in color. And that's always a dead giveaway that that's kind of your first strike at your opponent.

And then it says: "Only a bold Reagan conservative can defeat President Obama." Trying to sound very presidential. Not trying to sound nasty. Lenny McAllister joining our panel from Des Moines, Iowa, I want you to jump in with our group as well.

Lenny, so I don't understand how you can be in politics since the late '70s and not have learned your lesson that negative ads work. And if you're going to let people just beat up on you, you are going to suffer massively. But yet I don't see him turning the tables yet.

LENNY MCALLISTER, CONSERVATIVE COMMENTATOR: Well, because Newt Gingrich has the reputation of being a nasty politician. He has a lot of enemies within the Republican Party, and then he has all this baggage that the Democrats will use against him.

He cannot necessarily go negative immediately in a way to defend himself quite the same way Mitt Romney did when he was sliding down the polls. Newt has to be more nuanced with this. He has to take a long-term approach to rebuilding his image and attacking his opponents.

So he still cannot just pretty much go full barrels blazing the way he would like to go. And therefore you're going to see a little bit more moderation from him hopefully and not necessarily allow these candidates to get underneath his skin as they go back on the debate tour, which is his strong suit coming up this weekend.

SAMBOLIN: So we also have Erick Erickson, CNN contributor and editor- in-chief of Nice to see you this morning as well. Let's talk about electability a little here. Because that's the key word that everybody's throwing around now. Who actually can beat President Obama? As we head into New Hampshire, who do you think that is? Would it be a Gingrich, or would it be a Romney?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Lord, I'm not sure that it would be any of them. I mean, when you look at it, the narrative that Mitt Romney has had working in his favor the whole time is that he's the most electable, except he lost independents and Democrat-leaning voters according to the entrance polls, to Ron Paul. And he lost Republican voters to Rick Santorum by a point.

If he's the most electable guy, he has now spent six years campaigning for president, and he has gone from 23 percent in the polls to 23 percent in the polls. That doesn't sound like electability.

Newt Gingrich is such a wild card, though. There are a lot of Republicans who are scared to death he'll implode along the way. So I'm not sure if Iowa doesn't say, we hate all of the above, someone come rescue us.

BANFIELD: So I want to bring Mark Preston in, our political director here at CNN. I'm really going to tap your memory. You ready?

PRESTON: Don't do this.

BANFIELD: I know, at 4:24 in the morning Eastern time. So I know that we don't have any really reliable recent polls for South Carolina, but Gingrich has been doing so well in that state. And it is that whole evangelical group, it is his uber conservative message that has been resonating well, and yet the governor of that state has endorsed Mitt Romney and has said wonderful things. And she is wildly popular, Nikki Haley, in that state.

So going into South Carolina, do you expect -- because I expect we're going to get some polls in the next little while on South Carolina, do you expect that Gingrich is going to take a massive hit from his 13 percent showing tonight?

PRESTON: Well, let's look at South Carolina from this perspective right now. The folks we thought would do very well down there was Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann. In fact, Rick Perry was supposed to leave Iowa and hold three events in South Carolina tomorrow. He would appeal to the evangelical, the born-again vote, people who identify themselves as that, as well as Michele Bachmann.

Now it looks like Rick Perry has now been taken off the table. Michele Bachmann is all but dead.

BANFIELD: Is that true? He says, I'm going back to Texas, is it really?

PRESTON: Well, the question is, how can you go back to Texas and reassess your campaign? We have two nationalized televised presidential debates coming up Saturday, Sunday. I don't think you can go back to Texas and reassess and then get back on the campaign trail.

You've now sent a message to your supporters that you don't think you have enough to keep going. At least Michele Bachmann left a little bit of the door open to at least stay in the race. But the fact of the matter is, it would be very hard for her to do so.

So who does that leave the door open to? Well, Rick Santorum, who was really wildly popular with social conservatives certainly when he was in Congress. He is very strong on anti-abortion. He's very good with the home-schoolers. So you've got to expect that Rick Santorum will at least try to gobble up some of that support down there. Now, a lot of people will say that Newt Gingrich is a son of the South. He was from Georgia, but let's not forget, Newt Gingrich hasn't lived in Georgia in a very, very long time.

He does have the support, right? He does have the support of some -- of a lot of Georgia legislators, but the fact is he's going to have to fight down there. But it comes down to this, and you talked about it a little bit earlier...

BANFIELD: The hit?

PRESTION: ... electability -- well, electability, electability. But the hit took Newt Gingrich which calls into question, is he electable?

SAMBOLIN: You know what, Mark? We've got to go to break. When we come back, we're going to talk about that. A lot more about Santorum and also about Gingrich saying that actually the Republicans have to get together and have a debate before anybody decides who's going to debate Obama in the future.

So we're going to take a quick break here. And you are live at the CNN Election Center. Much more when we come back.



MATT STRAWN, CHAIRMAN, 2012 IOWA CAUCUSES: With 1,770 precincts reporting, Governor Mitt Romney received 30,015 votes, Senator Rick Santorum received 30,007 votes. Congratulations to Governor Mitt Romney, winner of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. Congratulations to Senator Santorum for a very close second place finish in an excellent race here. And congratulations to Congressman Paul and all the other candidates who competed in the 2012 Iowa Caucuses.


BANFIELD: And that's what you call beating someone by the hair on your chinny-chin-chin. That was Matt Strawn, chairman of the Iowa Caucuses, announcing the final result which took forever and ever, amen. But we basically got that final result just about two hours ago. And the Election Center has been alive all night. Continues to be alive this morning, if you're just waking up. Shazam, we have a winner.

SAMBOLIN: It was very exciting, very exciting. You know, I kept on writing down the times of when Santorum was ahead, when we had Romney ahead. It was just a constantly moving target here.

Christine Romans actually is taking a look at all the folks here who have voted in some of the polls. And what are you finding there, Christine?

ROMANS: Well, I'm trying to see what the most important issue is and how people voted based on the issues here. If you look at this, you can see health care, 4 percent, 4 percent of Iowa GOP voters said health care was the most important issue.

On the economy, 42 percent. Here's the budget deficit. Here's abortion. You see who wins those categories? Boom, boom, boom. Interesting, right? I want to look at the economy and the budget deficit in particular. And sort of break those down a little bit -- a little bit closer.

And you can see if we walk over on the other side here, interesting, right? It's Romney, Paul, Santorum, Paul, Romney, Santorum. The same three get the highest marks for handling the money issues of this country, our burgeoning budget deficit, our national debt, and fixing the economy.

But it's Romney who does much better on those, overall on the economy. I told you just a few minutes ago that it was Romney who got the vote, 48 percent for being -- his experience in business being a big boon to people who are those GOP Iowa voters.

So just some interesting nuances that we're finding in these entrance polls and trying to figure out what exactly these undecided until the last minute Iowa voters were thinking about.

In just a few minutes, I'm going to tell you just how undecided they were and who had their minds up as far back as December who they were going for. I'm going to have that for you in just a couple of minutes.

SAMBOLIN: Christine, we talked about this I think it was yesterday, I don't quite remember here. But I think you mentioned that you were surprised or you thought that the economy was not going to be top on the issue here.



ROMANS: Jobs. The people who were going here to these caucuses were less concerned about not having a job. Why? Because the unemployment rate is 5.7 percent in Iowa, it's the sixth lowest unemployment rate in the country. You've got farmland prices that are going crazy. I mean, $6,000, the cost of an acre of land.

And so you've got this not burning job crisis in the state. So when they're talking about the economy, they're talking about the budget deficit, they're talking about the direction of the policy, they're talking about tax policy, they're talking about, wait, what's going to happen in globalization, the cost of our farms and are we going to be creating jobs in the farm sector?

So it's a little different in the Midwest and specifically in Iowa than it is in the rest of the country. So they do care about the economy. But jobs as issue number one is not the thing that was driving some of these folks here. And I'll talk to -- I'll say something else. People in Iowa were concerned about young people, about opportunity. We talked to a lot of different people at the caucus sites who said, look, my kids or my grandkids are leaving the state.

They're worried about opportunity in general in the economy. They're not, though, crushed with 8.6 percent unemployment rate like the average for the rest of the country and certainly not like the unemployment rates in some of the other parts where they are going to be important to primaries coming up in Nevada, in Florida, South Carolina, and the like.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you, Christine Romans. We've talked a lot about soul searching, you know, and folks are trying to figure out exactly who would be best for them.

BANFIELD: You know, Santorum and Romney, some say they're both winners. Others say, look, nice finish, OK? So you got eight votes, but you still lost, Mr. Santorum. They both had something to say as they came out of this sort of squeaky finish, but not before the complete squeaky finish. So have a listen to what Mitt Romney had to say within the wee hours and also Rick Santorum.


ROMNEY: Thank you, Iowa, for the great send-off you're giving to us and to the others in this campaign. Look, this is -- this is a campaign night where America wins. We're going to change the White House and get America back on track.

SANTORUM: You know that New Hampshire's all about grass-roots politics, so we feel very good that we're going to climb that ladder just like we did here.


SAMBOLIN: So, Mark, let's talk about Santorum here. Because a lot of folks, you know, saying that this second place finish was really a win for him. But we talked about electability. We have to talk about money. Can he, in fact, have a campaign that can actually fight against a Mitt Romney and a Newt Gingrich?

PRESTON: Well, certainly not a Mitt Romney when it comes to money because he can self fund. I mean, he is worth so much money. Let me just take a step back though and say it was a win for Mitt Romney, and it was a win for Rick Santorum.

And the reason why is that Mitt Romney didn't have that spend that much of his own campaign money. These super PACs came in and they basically funded his campaign by taking out Newt Gingrich. So that was a win for him.

Look, he wasn't even going to play in Iowa. He spent very, very, very little time here in Iowa. And then Rick Santorum, who came out of nowhere, I've got to tell you, after...

SAMBOLIN: Blew the whole bank on Iowa.

PRESTON: Blew the whole bank, probably all $17 that he had in his pocket, right? But let me tell you, you know, a couple of things about Rick Santorum. One was is that I saw Rick Santorum after the CNN/AEI/Heritage debate that we held right before Thanksgiving, it was about foreign policy.

Rick Santorum was walking by me afterwards, and he turned to me and said, Preston, how did I do? And I said, well, you know, Senator, you know you did fine. And he was disgusted with me. And he said, what do you mean, fine?

And I said, Senator, you're fine. You're good. And he said, you don't seem that happy. And I said, well, Senator, we are two days away from Thanksgiving. You know, I mean, come on, you did great tonight.

But I have to say, I was with him back in 2010 -- in June of 2010 where he was by himself. He was here, Ron Paul was here. Nobody else was in Iowa at that time. And he gave this very impassioned speech to about 800 people who were not listening to him in the first 10 or 15 minutes.

They were more busy trying to get their plate of food. And then he talked about his faith. And then he talked about how he had lost a child. And then he talked about how his child now was sick. And I've got to tell you, all of a sudden the audience got captivated. And that's the type of voters that we see here in Iowa -- of course, we're in Atlanta, I just got back from Iowa.

But they're in Iowa who participate in caucuses. These are the evangelical folks. And they want to taste and feel somebody that has their own values. Rick Santorum had their values.

BANFIELD: Let's bring in Ruben Navarrette, who is live with us out of San Diego right now, because Mark just brought up a great point, and that is that Rick Santorum has a very heavy foreign policy position. He's very anti-Iran. At some point, Ruben, I'm wondering if I'm going to hear him invoke the words of Senator McCain, "bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb- bomb Iran."

And I don't know that that's going to play over well or if he'll stick with his evangelical message as he moves sort of scoots through New Hampshire, and right into South Carolina and Florida. What do you think?

NAVARRETTE: I think that the foreign policy message that Rick Santorum hit is very popular with Republican voters and with a good chunk of Democratic voters as well. And certainly after 9/11, I think a lot of people in the power corridors of Washington and New York have begun to take Iran very seriously and the idea of a dangerous foreign policy, a dangerous world very seriously.

So there's a lot of reasons I think to go after Rick Santorum, but I think when he goes on the foreign policy thing, he's on pretty firm ground with a lot of those voters, particularly Republican voters. I also think that Mark is right, there was a turning point with that particular speech where people were eating and not paying attention and all of a sudden they started listening to him. And he had this ability not just to go around to the 99 counties and do the retail politics, but when he actually spoke, he spoke from the heart.

And remember this, the one thing that Mitt Romney has always working against him, no matter how much money, how much money he spends, people cannot relate to Mitt Romney. There's an inability for Republican voters and other voters to relate to Mitt Romney.

What Rick Santorum gave them was an ability, somebody they could relate to. He opened up. He opened himself up. He talked about his own personal life. He was very personal and vulnerable to them. And they responded to it. If he does that again in New Hampshire and South Carolina, watch out.

SAMBOLIN: So let's bring in John Avlon. What do you think, John? Do you think that that is going to work in favor of Santorum as he heads into New Hampshire? Do you think that's going to be key for him?

AVLON: Well, look, I mean, Rick Santorum actually has spent more time in New Hampshire on the ground than any other candidate except Jon Huntsman, who, of course, has bet his whole campaign on a strong New Hampshire showing.

But the Iowa Caucus and the New Hampshire Primary electorate couldn't be more different. They represent opposite sides of the Republican political spectrum. The Iowa Caucus, disproportionately dominated by not only evangelicals but self-identified conservatives. Just around 16 percent, I believe, in our entrance poll, described themselves as centrist or moderate Republicans.

New Hampshire is an open primary, meaning independent voters can vote. Independent voters make up 42 percent of the New Hampshire electorate. And New Hampshire is the least religious state in the nation.

So while Rick Santorum's ground game's going to be important, and Mike Huckabee did pretty well there in 2008. He could start to coalesce that social conservative alternative to Mitt Romney vote, he might do well.

He's put in more time than people think in terms of the retail politics. But the electorate is fundamentally different. The only statewide elected -- just one of the reasons Mitt Romney is doing so well isn't just because he owns a house in Lake Winnipesaukee, there's only one statewide elected official from Massachusetts who has ever lost the New Hampshire Primary, and his name is Mitt Romney.

Going back to Henry Cabot Lodge in 1952, the statewide electeds from the neighboring state wins. So Mitt Romney is in a pretty good position heading into New Hampshire. The key is going to be who decamps to South Carolina, who can really coalesce those social conservatives around them.

Yes, Mitt Romney has Nikki Haley, the South Carolina governor, on his side, but her numbers are under water, not doing as well with social conservatives as some folks might think. So there's an opening there.

What's fascinating is that Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum will be competing for the evangelical vote, but both are actually Catholics. In the past that might have been a religious division, but now I think you're seeing a broader faith-based coalition.

BANFIELD: Do you just wake up able to quote election results from the '40s?


AVLON: It comes from trading baseball cards as a kid. It just translates into politics.

BANFIELD: No, there's something wrong with you. You're amazing.

AVLON: That's entirely possible.

BANFIELD: 4:40 in the morning Eastern time and you're pulling that stuff out of your hat? I'm very impressed.

We at CNN like to pride ourselves on blanketing the country with coverage when it comes to these first in the nation caucuses and primaries and then, of course, general election as well. And to that end, we dispatched our David Mattingly to South Carolina. Two states ahead for you, just to make sure we got it all down. And there's a reason that he's in Aiken, South Carolina, because you were expecting to have a very busy story, Mr. Mattingly. You are expecting to have Rick Perry showing up there today. Ain't going to happen.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. There was a reason for me being in Aiken, and that reason has gone away. Rick Perry was supposed to be on the ground here. He was supposed to be on this very street walking down the street greeting and talking to voters before having a town hall meeting here in town later this afternoon.

That's all on hold now as he's gone back to Texas to reassess. The chairman of the GOP Party here in South Carolina yesterday was quoted as saying that the race here is still wide open, and nothing happened in Iowa to change that at all.

In fact, when South Carolina voters wake up in the morning, they're going to find out that they're in exactly the position that they wanted to be in to choose and be able to determine who actually speaks directly to and for the conservatives of the Republican Party.

We've got Mitt Romney here. He has got the endorsement of Governor Nikki Haley. Rick Santorum has been on the ground here a lot already. This could be his land of second chances, a place where he can prove he's not just an Iowa sensation.

Something interesting, he polled very well last night among tea party voters. Polling here in South Carolina suggests that a lot of Republicans, more than half much them, identify with some of the ideas of the tea party. But only about 15 percent of them or so actually identify themselves as tea party voters. So it's going to be very interesting to see how this state shakes out. But again, as I said just a couple of seconds ago, this is exactly where voters in South Carolina wanted to be, to actually be the kingmaker in this race to be able to decide who's truly going to be the front-runner.

SAMBOLIN: All right, Dave Mattingly, live for us, we appreciate it. We're going to check back in with you a little bit later. Right now we need to take a quick break. When we come back, we're going to talk about a big endorsement that is headed in Mr. Mitt Romney's direction today.

BANFIELD: We're expecting it and we think we pretty much confirmed it. And by the way, total flip from 2008. Total flip. Is that a tease or is that a tease? Come on back, baby.

SAMBOLIN: Live in the CNN Election Center, we'll be right back.


BANFIELD: Welcome back if you're just joining us. It's 4:46 in the East. And boy, do you ever wake up early. Surprise. We have some news for you.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, we actually got up a little bit earlier on air today because we've been up all night watching all of this coverage. And do we have the poll to put it back up again to remind folks what actually happened while they were sleeping?

BANFIELD: Not a poll, a leader board.

SAMBOLIN: I'm sorry.

BANFIELD: It's an amazing result and I think the most amazing story is that we have a result because it took forever. I felt like it was...

SAMBOLIN: 2:30 in the morning I think it was finally called. There it is, Mitt Romney, 30,015 votes, and Santorum, 30,007. So only eight votes separate them. We're going to do a little trivia later to see if you can guess if this is...

BANFIELD: The record.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, the record that happened. Do you think yes or no? I think you know, right?

BANFIELD: I know it ain't. But you know what? I was starting to get, like, sweaty palms because as they were looking at these numbers coming in all night and then they went to CNN after dark and started playing like the jazz music, I started to think, oh, no, this is the Bush-Gore 2000 all over again, we're going to be here for months figuring out Iowa.

But they don't do recounts, folks. They don't do that kind of thing. And it's really kind of fun. It's just one by one by one by one. SAMBOLIN: And that's what took so long because it was the last precinct reporting. And that's where we finally got the information, knowing. But it was back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

BANFIELD: Yes. And if you ever thought -- and I'm a new American so I am the most pious voter among us, folks. But if you ever thought that your vote didn't count, eight people -- eight people in Iowa made a difference. It's actually like a remarkable statistic. But like you said, we're going to give you the actual record coming up in a little bit.

In the meantime, we want to get you out to Manchester, New Hampshire, because, folks, I love Iowa but we're already moving on. That's just the way it works. And Dan Lothian, our CNN correspondent, is standing by live in Manchester.

There's some interesting new movement in the numbers in Manchester, in New Hampshire, aren't there, Dan?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean, we take a look at the most recent polling here, Mitt Romney has remained a strong double-digit leader here in the state of New Hampshire for quite some time. And when you look at the new polling, he consistently continues to be at 47 percent. So no change there since the early numbers in early December.

But take a look at Rick Santorum's numbers where in early December he was at 5 percent. Now the latest number's having him at 10 percent. And that is, of course, what everyone is paying attention to here in the state of New Hampshire.

I was at Mr. Santorum's headquarters last night. Of course, everyone there all excited, watching the numbers coming in. And now they're talking about will that translate into supporters growing here on the ground in New Hampshire? They believe that this will create an opportunity for more people to give Senator Santorum a second look.

Now, let's go back to the front-runner who's been that way now for quite some time, as I mentioned. The reason that he has been a front- runner here, Mitt Romney, for so long is that he has been campaigning here for years.

Remember, he was campaigning here in 2008. He came in second place. But in addition to that, he has a summer home here in New Hampshire. He's a former governor of a neighboring state of Massachusetts. And so he has spent a lot of time on the ground here.

He doesn't have to introduce himself to the voters of New Hampshire. They already know who he is. And so that's one of the reasons that he has been leading with such a wide margin here in New Hampshire.

The big question is, will the dynamics of what happened in Iowa translate here? And, of course, the big push starts today here in New Hampshire as the New Hampshire voters start to take a second look at these candidates based on what happened in Iowa. BANFIELD: I love -- Dan, I love that you just said in 2008, Mr. Romney came in second. Because he not only just came in second, he came in second to Senator McCain. And it was bitter-bitter chicken dinner. It was not a fun thing to watch. But today, it's a big old flip-flop.

And in fact, Dan, stand by for a second. Zoraida, today you would never have expected what's going to happen with Senator McCain given what happened in 2008 between these two.

SAMBOLIN: There's a big endorsement that is headed his way today. So we're going to talk about that when we come back with our panelists. We've got a lot of people that are following all of this coverage for us and with us. So we're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we'll have much more on that.

BANFIELD: Live from the Election Center, (INAUDIBLE).


BANFIELD: Hi, everybody, welcome back to the CNN Election Center. We're live at 4:53 Eastern time. And no, you're not, you know, looking at your clock wrong. We're on an hour early. We've been live all night. The Election Center has been abuzz because we had a little bit of a standoff for a while there. We didn't have numbers until only about two-and-a-half hours ago.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, let's take a look at the leader board here so that in case you missed it, in case you were sleeping, this is what happened while you were sleeping. Actually at 2:30 in the morning, finally Mitt Romney, eight votes ahead of Rick Santorum. So there are the numbers for you, 30,015 to 30,007. Big news.

BANFIELD: And when Zoraida says eight votes, you did hear right. Not 8 percent. Eight votes. So your vote matters, folks. If that doesn't energize you to get to the polls or to your caucuses as this season kicks off, I don't know what else would.

But listen, if you think eight votes is a record, it is for Iowa. But it isn't a record for the greatest United States -- the greater United States, shall I say. The record is actually Guam in 2008. In Guam, Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton by...

SAMBOLIN: Seven votes.

BANFIELD: Can you believe it? A record by one vote.

SAMBOLIN: We were shocked when we read that this morning, by the way, because we thought there's just no way.

BANFIELD: I thought, you're blind. Get some glasses. And she's like, no, no, no, it's votes, not percentage.


BANFIELD: No, it's votes. It's votes. So we were having a little bit of fun with the numbers this morning because that's what geeky wonks do. We have fun with the numbers. In fact, that's what we want to do right now as well because we've got other thing that are coming out that might affect the numbers.

Senator McCain ran away with New Hampshire in 2008 and trounced his opponent, Mitt Romney. And today, he's going to be doing something else for Mitt Romney. He's going to be giving him a lending hand.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, finally, he's scheduled to endorse him today. And, you know, it was big news because nobody expected it to happen. And here we are. So we want to talk about that. Are we going to bring in our political panelists?

BANFIELD: Yes, I don't know if I just remember it being as bitter as I think it was, but Mark Preston, look, you're the guy who watches this for a living day-in/day-out. We also have John Avlon and Ruben Navarrette with us, all of our awesome crack team...


SAMBOLIN: Can we start with John Avlon on this one, would you mind if we did?

John, are you there? Can you chime in on this? Are you surprised?

AVLON: Sure. I'm not surprised because this has been rumored for some time. And the timing going into New Hampshire makes sense. But don't underestimate the amount of bad blood. And that's what Ashleigh was referring to.

Right now we just heard Newt Gingrich give that angry speech, really feeling the personal animus towards Mitt Romney because of that avalanche of negative ads. Well, one dynamic, you know, four years ago I was working for Rudy Giuliani when he was running for president.

And I don't think it's a big secret to say that the folks who ran against Mitt Romney last time didn't walk away with a lot of love for him because of the sense that he would take a low blow if he needed to, especially in a debate.

And Mitt Romney on paper would have made a lot of sense, for example, as a V.P. choice for John McCain, especially with the economy emerging in the fall. But there just was that kind of bad blood.

So this is an attempt to heal the rift. It makes a lot of sense in terms of coalescing the center right around Mitt Romney to the exclusion of Jon Huntsman. But my guess, it's probably a bit of a bitter pill for John McCain to swallow. But he's going to do it in the interest of unifying the party.

SAMBOLIN: You know, interestingly enough, this morning I was reading that it's actually somebody within Romney's camp that was working on this for a while to make it happen. Did you hear anything about that?

AVLON: This had been buzzed for a while. There was rumor it was going to happen a couple of weeks ago. But, of course, it really makes the most sense to do it in New Hampshire. Not that Mitt Romney actually needs the bump in New Hampshire, because he's had that sizeable double-digit lead for months now.

But New Hampshire is really the heart of McCain country. I mean, this is where he pulled off that Lazarus-like reversal in 2008 and ended up winning. It's where he beat George W. Bush by 19 points in 2000. So New Hampshire, because of the role of independent votes there, is the heart of McCain country. It's a good place to do it. It's the sign of the center right coalescing around Mitt Romney.

BANFIELD: Seriously, again, the Lazarus-like -- how does your brain work at three minutes to 5:00 in the east, John Avlon? Honestly, I don't believe you were able to pull that one off. Have you got a few more in the can for us coming up?

SAMBOLIN: I hope so.

AVLON: You know, just like any political writer, you do the -- what is the revival of a dead campaign? You go Lazarus. You've got to go Lazarus.

BANFIELD: And you know what? Rudy Giuliani is just dying right now that you're not working for him.

We have to take a break. And when we come back, we're going to analyze the numbers a bit little more. And also, hey, by the way, do you remember a guy named Ron Paul? Yes, we'll talk about that as well all coming up from the Election Center.