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Santorum Shakes Up the GOP Race with Surprise Finish in Iowa

COMMENTARY | The Iowa caucus on Tuesday proved that working the Hawkeye State is "the way it's done." Old-fashioned? You betcha.

Jon Huntsman might feel that "in Iowa they pick corn. In New Hampshire, we pick presidents." But the truth falls somewhere in between. Iowa helps winnow the field, helps separate the wheat from the chaff and helps to underscore whether a front-runner in the race has the horses to go the distance.

Dark horse Rick Santorum proved that hard work pays off. Working the state for 100 days in 381 town hall meetings, driving from one small hamlet to another in "the Chuck truck," Santorum doggedly clawed his way to within eight votes of Mitt Romney in the closest GOP presidential caucus race in history.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, CNN showed Santorum with only eight votes fewer than Romney: 30,015 for Romney, 30,007 for Santorum. (Iowa's 25 delegates are awarded proportionately.)

Ron Paul was third with 26,186, Newt Gingrich was fourth with 16,251 votes, Rick Perry received 12,604 and Michele Bachmann had 6,079. The 122,000 votes cast were not much higher than those cast in 2008 and fewer than the nearly double that number cast by Democrats in 2008.

Before the night's vote, Santorum made a speech in Clive, Iowa, Precinct 4, where I was present, quietly urging the mostly elderly voters to vote for him. Apparently, that plea worked statewide. The candidate who spent $1.65 per vote beat the man who spent $113 per vote (Romney) as well as the Texas candidate, Perry, who spent $374 a vote, according to data from the Huffington Post.

Santorum's performance proves what I wrote earlier: To do well in Iowa, you must work the state. The state expects nothing less. Santorum spent 100 days visiting each of Iowa's 99 counties. Romney's tally: Five staffers, 10 days, (vs. 52 staffers in 2008 and $10 million spent). These figures were cited by the candidates in their televised remarks.

New Hampshire has been ceded to Romney, leading comfortably with 40 percent. South Carolina on Jan. 21 becomes pivotal. Romney has been running behind in Florida. The question: Can he overcome the "anybody but Romney" animosity within the party? The fractured inability to pick a candidate is an obstacle the GOP must overcome.

Gingrich made one of the least gracious concession speeches in history, attacking Paul and Romney. Gingrich is irate over the negative ads aimed at him in Iowa. He's about to go ballistic on those responsible. Gingrich is an effective attack politician, but it is an unattractive stance. He has no surrogates to launch his blasts. Santorum, interviewed by CNN, said, "I can understand why Newt feels the way he does."

Romney's words seemed plastic, carefully orchestrated, while Santorum came off as more sincere, but let's wait till Santorum is under fire for his ultra-conservative positions.

As James Carville said on CNN: "This has been one weird race, so far."