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Iowa vote shows Republicans spilt on who can beat President Obama

The opening contest in the battle for the Republican Presidential nomination tells us one clear thing: the GOP is struggling to find a candidate capable of beating Barack Obama in November.

Mormon Mitt Romney remains the front runner in the race despite last night’s incredibly close Iowan vote.

But he underwhelmed Iowans, narrowly beating evangelical Rick Santorum by just eight votes.

Seventy-six-year-old libertarian Ron Paul shocked many by coming a close third.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich got 13% and may still fight, but Governor Rick Perry and Congresswoman Michele Bachman suffered definitive defeat. Those two are almost certainly out of the game.

This shows the Republicans have yet to find the candidate behind whom they can all unite.

What really matters to them in the run-up to Super Tuesday is who can beat President Obama by convincing Americans they can fix the US economy.

Rick Santorum is almost certainly not that man.

Santorum is a hugely divisive politician.

He became Pennsylvania’s Senator in the 1994 Republican Revolution by preaching the Contract with America which he now rejects.

He is best known for his pro-life stance and not well known outside of Pennsylvania and the beltway.

He made unfortunate gaffes while campaigning in Iowa, which reveals a careless attitude towards ethnic minorities and the country’s poor.

It’s also crucial to consider Santorum’s past election performances to show just how unpopular he has been when it comes to polling day.

He secured only 49% of the vote to become Pennsylvania’s Senator in 1994. He squeezed past that point to 52% in 2000.

But, in 2006, Santorum was hammered by Democrat Bob Casey Jr by an 18 point margin – and that was before Obama-mania had swept the State.

Heavily-defeated Santorum moved to Virginia to make that his new home.

And even there, he couldn’t collect the 10,000 signatures required to get on the ballot.

This means he won’t even feature in the Virginia Super Tuesday primary on March 6.

Ron Paul – favourite of Tea Party supporters, despite not having evangelical credentials – has long been seen as a fringe figure in the Republican Party.

Despite his $12million war chest, his age and Washington insider status are bound to count against him.

His strong showing in Iowa tells us that many Republicans have not yet rallied around Romney and are still searching for a no-holds-barred fiscal conservative.

Between them, Paul and Santorum risk splitting the ultra right in the GOP and handing victory to Romney.

Look for Mitt Romney to maintain the steady middle, in polling numbers and voter appeal.

There will be ups and downs, but he has invested in New Hampshire and across the early primary states. He has the money, the track record and the organisation.

The Obama campaign is aiming all their fire at Romney. Many voters will take that as their cue to support the man who poses the real challenge.

Idil Oyman is an Associate Director at Portland and spent 12 years in Washington, including several years working on the Hill for the Republicans.

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Idil Oyman