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2012: Santorum comes out ahead in Iowa

The Des Moines Register from earlier this morning: “The certified numbers: 29,839 for Santorum and 29,805 for Romney. The turnout: 121,503. It’s not a surprise that the ultra-thin gap of eight votes on caucus night didn’t hold up, but it’s tough to swallow the fact that there will always be a question mark hanging over this race, politics insiders said.”

The Charleston Post and Courier has five things to watch at tonight’s debate: (1) “Can any of the candidates land a blow on the front-runner?” (2) “Will the increasingly harsh tone on the campaign trail spill into the debate?” (3) “Can a candidate connect with evangelicals or the tea party?” (4) “What about the military vote?” and (5) “Will the debate strengthen or weaken the nominee?”

A trio of polls confirms Mitt Romney’s support slipping, but him still in the lead in South Carolina, and Newt Gingrich gaining ground. An NBC/Marist poll shows Romney’s lead cut to 10. He’s at 34%, Gingrich 24%, Ron Paul 16%, Rick Santorum 14%, Rick Perry 4%.

A CNN/Time poll also showed Romney up 10 -- Romney 33%, Gingrich 23%, Santorum 16%, Paul 13%, Perry 6%. A Politico poll shows Romney’s lead at just seven points, 37%-30%. Paul is a distant third with 11%, Santorum 10%, Perry 4%.

CAIN/COLBERT: NBC News confirms that Herman Cain will join Stephen Colbert for a rally on Friday in Charleston, SC, NBC’s Alex Moe reports.

GINGRICH: “The daughters of presidential candidate Newt Gingrich sent an open letter to the leadership of ABC News on Wednesday addressing rumors that the network was prepared to air an interview with the former Speaker's second ex-wife, Marianne,” The Hill writes.

The New York Post goes with “The ‘Bad’ Wife” for its web headline on the Gingrich story. The story’s headline: “Gingrich's bitter ex gives TV interview that could derail presidential run.”

He’s up with a video called, “Desperate,” using quotes from John McCain and Mike Huckabee from 2008.

Gingrich yesterday said his effective tax rate is 31%, but his tax returns are supposed to be out today. A word of advice: Read the fine print, considering how he filed his financial disclosure.

ROMNEY: The Romney campaign’s statement on the Iowa results showing Rick Santorum 34 votes ahead: “The results from Iowa caucus night revealed a virtual tie. I would like to thank the Iowa Republican Party for their careful attention to the caucus process, and we once again recognize Rick Santorum for his strong performance in the state. The Iowa caucuses, with record turnout, were a great start to defeating President Obama in Iowa and elsewhere in the general election.”

“After a debate in which Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney faced attacks from all sides, the Romney campaign says it has not yet accepted invitations to participate in two high-profile debates leading up to the January 31 Florida primary, and a key Romney adviser is expressing fatigue and frustration over what he sees as a never-ending series of GOP debates,” Byron York reports. “‘There are too many of these,’ Romney strategist Stuart Stevens said after Monday night's Fox News debate at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center.  ‘We have to bring some order to it.  We haven't accepted Florida…It's kind of like a cruise that's gone on too long.’” More: “Asked by email about the candidate's debate schedule after that, Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said, ‘I have no announcements to make on debates at this time.’”

York notes, “There's no doubt the debate schedule has been intense.” But, he adds, “Stevens may have expressed frustration with the debate schedule because Romney is facing continuing questions on issues the campaign would rather not discuss.”

While Townhall’s Benson empathizes with the Romney campaign and the exhaustive number of debate (tonight’s is No. 17), he also sees some risk: “[I]f Romney declines to participate in Florida's scheduled debates, he runs a number of significant risks:  (1) Appearing over-confident, as if he's already the presumptive nominee.  (2) Seeming like he's avoiding uncomfortable subjects, such as questions about his time at Bain and his tax returns that arose last night.  (3) Handing his rivals several nationally-televised opportunities to bludgeon him in his absence.  One can't defend oneself if one doesn't show up.”

Romney is out with a new positive ad, “Ready to Lead.” In the ad, Romney says, Obama “lost our AAA credit rating, I’ll restore it.” Democratic-aligned Super PAC American Bridge, however, reminds of this story: “Romney’s Pitch to S&P Boasted of Revenue Raisers.” From the story: “Documents obtained by The Wall Street Journal Wednesday through the Freedom of Information Act show the Romney administration’s pitch to S&P in late 2004 included the boast that ‘The Commonwealth acted decisively to address the fiscal crisis’ that ensued after the terrorist attacks of 2001. Bulleted PowerPoint slides laid out the actions taken, including legislation in July 2002 to increase tax revenue by $1.1 billion to $1.2 billion in fiscal 2003 and $1.5 billion to $1.6 billion in fiscal 2004; tax ‘loophole’ legislation that added $269 million in ‘additional recurring revenue,’ and tax amnesty legislation that added $174 million. The final bullet: ‘FY04 budget increased fees to raise $271 million yearly.’”

AP calls the ad “his closing appeal for votes in Saturday’s South Carolina primary.”

Romney at a South Carolina BBQ yesterday: “Those ribs, I’ll tell ya. There’s nothing better than those ribs,” He added about a minute later, “There’s nothing like pulled pork.” And then:” “I’m not a catfish man -- excuse me, not a fish man so much. I mean, I eat it because I’m told it’s good for me. But you know, I still like pulled pork and pulled chicken more.”

And then this, the Boston Globe reports, “He moved first to a table of four, where parents sitting with their two sons, one 3 years, another 5 months. ‘Don’t worry, I’m not taking mommy, I promise,’ Romney said to the children. ‘Just came here to say hi.’”

“Mitt Romney has a portion of his fortune stored in offshore accounts, according to an ABC News report tonight that is stoking calls for him to release his income tax returns,” the Boston Globe writes.

“Mitt Romney's campaign admitted Wednesday that he has millions invested in funds in a Caribbean tax haven — but insisted the GOP front-runner is no tax dodger,” the New York Daily News writes.

SANTORUM: “There are too many holes in the certified totals from the Iowa caucuses to know for certain who won, but Rick Santorum wound up with a 34-vote advantage,” the Des Moines Register reports. “Results from eight precincts are missing — any of which could hold an advantage for Mitt Romney — and will never be recovered and certified, Republican Party of Iowa officials told The Des Moines Register on Wednesday. GOP officials discovered inaccuracies in 131 precincts, although not all the changes affected the two leaders. Changes in one precinct alone shifted the vote by 50 — a margin greater than the certified tally. The certified numbers: 29,839 for Santorum and 29,805 for Romney. The turnout: 121,503.”

The New York Daily News: “Rick Santorum may have beaten Mitt Romney in Iowa caucuses after all.”

Dirty Tricks: NBC’s Ali Weinberg reports: A flyer condemning Rick Santorum on abortion greeted attendees after Wednesday's Personhood forum in Greenville as they headed back to their cars. The one-page, hot pink sheet, signed by "Elizabeth Leichert" from Parker, S.C., criticizes Santorum for past comments that he tried to "dance around the issue" of abortion; condemns his wife's past relationship with an OB/GYN who performed abortions; and calls him a "wolf in sheep's clothing" for his support of Title X funding for low-income family planning. 

“Most taxpayers could see their tax bills drop by nearly $10,000 annually, but at the expense of the country’s budget deficit, which could grow by $900 billion a year, under the tax plan proposed by GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum, according to an analysis released today by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center in Washington,” the Boston Globe writes.