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Caucuses still anyone's guess

Last modified: 1/3/2012 12:00:00 AM
As Iowans cast votes today, one thing has become undeniably clear. No one - not experts nor voters nor the candidates themselves - has any idea who is going to finish today on top.

"We're going to have some poll numbers in a couple of hours but I have no freaking clue who's going to win Iowa," Tom Jenson of Public Policy Polling tweeted late Sunday ahead of results that show Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum all within two points of each other.

A Saturday poll from the Des Moines Register showed the same three leading the scrum, with Romney at 24 percent, Paul at 22 percent and Santorum at 15 percent.

After months of campaigning in the nation's first nominating state, the picture there won't become clear until tonight, with results expected to begin rolling in at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time.

Possibly the most surprising twist of the last round of polls is the surge of Santorum, who might be peaking at the perfect time for a

strong Iowa finish. Santorum has gained 8 points in less than a week, according to Public Policy Polling's most recent numbers.

Paul, who led the state in recent weeks, has seen his standing dip slightly, as his favorability numbers plummeted, according to the poll.

Several candidates, especially those in the lower tier, have been quick to point out that 41 percent of voters in the Des Moines Register poll said their allegiance isn't solid.

Michele Bachmann, who was polling at 8 percent, said on The Early Show that "about half the people still remain undecided, and so I think what we're going to see is people will be making their decisions on the ground and we saw, like I said, thousands of people change."

Bachmann, who won the Ames Straw Poll last summer before seeing her campaign falter, yesterday aired television ads in Iowa reminding voters that she was born in the state.

Rick Perry, too, repeated that voters are still undecided when asked by a Politico reporter if his own lackluster numbers were disappointing.

"This thing is wide open. . . . Iowans haven't settled in on who they're going to vote for yet," said Perry, who pulled in 11 percent in the Des Moines Register poll. "And they're looking for an outsider to really overhaul Washington, D.C. Only one person on that ballot will be able to do that."

As candidates made their final push, Newt Gingrich seemed to be the only one willing to admit publicly that a win tonight is not in the cards.

"I don't think I'm going to win. I think if you look at the numbers, I think that volume of negativity has done enough damage," he said, referencing campaigning by his competitors.

He did offer one caveat.

"On the other hand, if the Des Moines Register was right in its 41 percent potentially (undecided), who knows what's going to happen," he said.

The variable field does not necessarily mean the race has been an exciting one for Iowans. According to a New York Times report, veterans of the Iowa caucuses say voters are more subdued than in 2008 and are having trouble committing in a field where many of the candidates have struggled to maintain widespread, impassioned support.

"There was more energy four years ago for (Mike) Huckabee - and even with the last Romney campaign," U.S. Rep. Steve King, a Republican from Iowa, told the paper.


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