Don Gonyea

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

While Mitt Romney celebrates, his rivals face a harsh reality. For all the Republican anxiety about Romney - conservatives saying he's not really conservative, columnists worrying that he doesn't seem authentic; fear that the whole GOP field just isn't very strong - Romney has won both Iowa and New Hampshire.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep in Manchester, New Hampshire.

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In recent weeks a lot of polls and pundits said the Iowa caucuses might be too close to call. But nobody imagined just how close things would turn out Tuesday night in the first voting of the 2012 presidential nominating season. Mitt Romney was declared the winner by just eight votes. Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum came in second.

Iowa's Republican Gov. Terry Branstad is a fierce advocate for the Iowa caucuses. At times over the past four months, he has seemed frustrated that candidates have not been in the state as much as in past years.

Branstad's message over and over to the candidates was not to ignore the voters of Iowa, because they take it personally.

"They want to see the candidates, and they take their responsibility very seriously," Branstad says.

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It seems Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney may at last be melting enough hearts to secure his front-runner status — for the moment, anyway. The Des Moines Register's final poll before Tuesday's Iowa caucuses put Romney ahead in what looks to be a three-man race.

The poll, released Saturday night, showed Romney in the lead at 24 percent. Congressman Ron Paul was a very close second at 22 percent, and a surprise surge put Sen. Rick Santorum third at 15 percent.

At 7 p.m. Central time on Tuesday, Jan. 3, the first contest of the 2012 presidential nominating process finally kicks into gear in Iowa.

As you've heard countless times, Iowans vote in caucuses, which are small political meetings held in 1,774 locations scattered around the state.

Here's a quick primer.

How It Works

Six GOP presidential hopefuls met in a two-hour-long debate in Des Moines, Iowa, Saturday night, and this time the gloves came off.

This was the first such event since former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich moved into the front-runner spot. It had been anticipated that Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — the top two in most polls — would square off as each hopes to win the Iowa caucuses, now just over three weeks away. They did, and the jabs got personal at times.

'Let's Be Candid'

Back in June, the news out of the Newt Gingrich presidential campaign was dire.

Top staffers quit over differences about strategy, with some citing doubts about the candidate's seriousness — especially when he and his wife went on a cruise to the Greek Islands while his rivals stumped through New Hampshire and Iowa.

But now it's December, and Gingrich suddenly sits atop the polls. As a result, his organization is growing — as is the campaign brain trust. But Gingrich's most important adviser remains himself.

A Front-Runner's Staffing Needs

Occupy Wall Street protesters have been removed by police from public spaces in Los Angeles and Philadelphia this week. Some cities still have active 24-hour protests in place, though earlier this month the original Occupy encampment — on Wall Street — was also shut down.

Now activists in New York and elsewhere are talking about the movement's next phase, including the degree to which Occupy activists should get involved in the 2012 election.

Six Republican presidential hopefuls gathered in Des Moines, Iowa, Saturday, and each made a pitch for the state's very important Christian conservative vote.

The event was not a debate, but a roundtable discussion. The candidates sat side-by-side at what was described as a Thanksgiving table, complete with pumpkins and autumn leaves. Not present at the table was former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who chose not to attend.

Presidential hopefuls and voters alike sometimes get upset about so-called gotcha questions from reporters that seem designed to embarrass contenders. But Wednesday night's Republican debate outside Detroit demonstrated how some candidates have done a perfectly good job of "getting" themselves.

The debate had some dramatic moments — including one excruciating moment that Texas Gov. Rick Perry would probably like to forget. The comments focused on the economy and jobs, but there were also questions about the sexual harassment allegations against front-runner Herman Cain.

It was one year ago that the Tea Party movement helped Republicans take control of the U.S. House of Representatives. With the presidential election a year away, the movement finds itself searching for ways to have the same kind of impact this time around.

The Tea Party celebrated on election night last year with candidates like Rand Paul, who captured a Senate seat in Kentucky.

"Tonight there's a Tea Party tidal wave, and we're sending a message to them," Paul said in his victory speech.

The baby boomers were born in the two decades after World War II and known for their anti-establishment liberalism in the 1960s. But their beginnings have not made them a predictable Democratic voting block. In 2008, boomers narrowly backed Barack Obama, but they swung over to Republicans in 2010.

It's been a week of mixed messaging from two of the campaigns on the presidential trail: that of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and current Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Romney revived accusations that he's a flip-flopper when he waded into a battle over a ballot proposal in Ohio. Perry created his own distraction by revisiting questions about President Obama's place of birth.

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