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STRATFORD, Iowa – Iowans tonight couldn’t decide on a single leader in the GOP race for the presidential nomination, with Mitt Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum vying for the top position at the state’s GOP caucuses. Republican Mitt Romney won by just eight votes, defeating a late surging Rick Santorum by one of the slimmest margins in Iowa election history.

Each candidate pulled in about 25 percent. The results show Iowa caucus-goers settled on Santorum as the alternative to Romney after cycling through a slew of non-Romney candidates over the past six months.

Ron Paul landed in third place with 22 percent of the vote. Newt Gingrich finished fourth.

Rick Perry said after a fifth-place finish that he was returning to Texas to reassess his campaign. Michele Bachmann finished last among candidates who were competing in Iowa. Questions swirl about the status of her campaign.

The thinking of the voters perhaps was typical in the small town of Stratford, where some 65 Republicans of the 800 residents gathered at the high school cafeteria to talk political parties, platform planks and presidential hopefuls.

In the Iowa caucus system, friends and neighbors are given a few moments to stand up and speak on behalf of their favorite candidates before the official vote is taken.

A silver-haired woman named Marilyn Yenger was expecting a volunteer from the Rick Perry campaign to stand and speak for him, but seeing no one, she stood instead:

“I’m not very good at talking in public,” Yenger said, before adding, “but then, neither is Rick Perry.”

After the laughter died down, however, Yenger explained why she thought Perry was a man of effective leadership and Christian character. Afterward, Yenger told WND that she didn’t feel qualified to speak on behalf of her candidate but was glad she did.

“Perry proved himself to me,” she said, “and this was my opportunity to stand before my neighbors and try to prove him to them. I expected only one to three votes, but he got 13. I was pleased.”

In the precinct vote, Perry actually came in third, with 13 votes, while Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul won the local gathering with 15 apiece, while a team of Paul supporters overlooked the vote count. Frontrunner Mitt Romney didn’t fare as well in the rural town, getting only 3 votes, while Michele Bachmann, John Huntsman and Rick Santorum also scored in single digits.

“We still have a lot of choices in this race,” said Brian Young, a much younger man than Yenger who is nonetheless already active in local party leadership. “But they’re good choices. It’s good to have this many, rather than to have only two when I don’t like either one of them.”

A pastor’s wife named Gracie Lambert told WND that despite many media assertions that Iowa has an unfair position with its first-in-the-nation status, she feels the fact that polls showed 40 percent of Iowans undecided heading into tonight is fairly representative of the nation as a whole.

“That whole indecision Iowans have, that’s a clear picture of lots of places,” Lambert said. “People are going to be undecided right up to the last minute.”

But Lambert also had some words of caution for the rest of the nation.

“Everywhere I go, people are asking me, ‘What’s happening in Iowa? You get all the mailings, all the attention, what are you hearing?’” Lambert said. “And yet some people are just listening to the media or still waiting around for someone else to enter the race. Make up your own minds. Learn about the candidates, then get behind one and make your case.”

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin told Fox News she wasn’t surprised by Santorum’s showing strength in the voting.

“Rick Santorum is solid on policies when it comes to peace through strength,” she said.

She also said Romney got attention because “he is perhaps seen by a lot of people as being most electable.”

Palin also said the GOP no longer will marginalize Ron Paul either.

“He has reached constituencies worried about the solvency of the U.S., and he has proposed solutions,” she said. Perhaps the GOP should work with him and his supporters, she said.

In the Iowa caucus system, after the presidential vote is taken, attendees also have the opportunity to discuss and vote for planks – position statements that help to shape and define the character of the Republican Party – that will be amended and voted upon at the county level, before moving farther up the chain.

In Stratford, among the planks discussed were calls for freedom of prayer and religious expression in the public schools, an end to the Federal Reserve, a return to original intent in interpretation of the Constitution and a constitutional amendment affirming legal “personhood” from conception to natural death.

The planks passed by various precincts will be compiled at the county level, amended, voted upon again and passed to district level, where the process is repeated before heading to the state GOP convention.

GOP candidate Jon Huntsman effectively didn’t participate in the Iowa caucus race, expressing the opinion that Iowa results wouldn’t have an impact on the overall race. Perry and Gingrich both have vowed to fight on, no matter their Iowa showing.

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