Close call leads Romney to ditch teleprompter, deliver familiar lines: Scenes from the Iowa caucuses

"Thank you Iowa": Those were the first three words of Mitt Romney's planned speech on Tuesday night after the caucuses, according to a photographer who saw the text queued up in the candidate's teleprompter. Minutes before Romney took the stage, his staff took the teleprompter away.

--Holly Bailey, 12:57 a.m. CT

DES MOINES, Iowa--It was not the night that Mitt Romney expected.

When he took the stage at a hotel ballroom in downtown Des Moines just after 11:30 p.m. CT on Tuesday night, the winner of the state's Republican presidential caucus was still unclear.

Aides had taken away the teleprompters at the side of Romney's podium shortly before he arrived in the room, and he reverted to a version of the basic stump speech he's been delivering in the state for days, lines that many of those gathered in the room—supporters and the media alike—have heard again and again.

For both the candidate and his supporters, it was an unsatisfying finish to a race Romney had hoped to win. While he spent just 20 days in the state—the lowest number of any of the 2012 Republican contenders—Romney had made a last ditch bid to win the state, going so far to declare on Monday, "We're going to win this thing."

But as his evening ended in a statistical tie with Rick Santorum, Romney was forced to offer dueling messages to his Iowa supporters. He congratulated both Santorum and Ron Paul, who came in third, but he also claimed "victory" for his own efforts in Iowa.

"In the heartland of America, a campaign begins," he said. "All three of us will be campaigning very hard to make sure that we restore the heart and soul of the entire nation."

Ten minutes later, Romney left the stage. His supporters, noticeably subdued, dodged a barrage of reporters and television cameras eager to get their reactions to the crazy night. Romney staffers, who had been lingering in the crowd most of the evening, were nowhere to be seen.

Long before Tuesday night's speech, Romney's advisers were already casting Iowa as a key boost to his campaign—in part because Romney managed to rise in the Iowa polls despite investing little time or money in the state.

But Tuesday's close call undermined that rise. Even as he earned back much of the vote he won four years ago, Romney failed to grow his base of support, or to elicit much passion from a Republican electorate that has spent much of the last year searching for an alternative candidate.
Perhaps most nerve-wracking for the Romney campaign is that his close finish came even as his GOP rivals largely ignored him in the state, instead training their fire on one another. That free pass won't exist starting Wednesday, as Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul have all announced plans to aggressively go after Romney's candidacy.

Speaking to supporters on Tuesday, Romney stuck with his strategy of hitting President Obama, describing him as "a nice guy…who is over his head." But the big test for Romney is whether he can continue to bracket his candidacy against Obama when he will be the No. 1 target heading out of Iowa.

--Holly Bailey, 12:25 a.m. CT

We are updating this page throughout caucus day in Iowa with scenes, photographs, observations and insights from the four Yahoo News reporters in Iowa on the campaign trail. Scroll down for more.

ANKENY, Iowa--Ron Paul and his team spun his third place finish Tuesday night as a momentum builder ahead of New Hampshire's Jan. 10 primary. But crowd reaction here at the watch party at the Courtyard Marriott was mixed.

"I think there's nothing to be ashamed of, everything to be satisfied [about,] and be ready and raring to move on to the next stop, which is New Hampshire!," Paul told an exuberant crowd.

But after the speeches and cheering subsided, some Paul supporters laid bare their disappointment.

"From our perspective, it's probably the worst case scenario," Dirk Kubala told Yahoo News. Kubala, a 2008 Paul supporter, and fellow Ohioan Ben Howard were hoping for Mitt Romney to place third and for Paul to finish first. "That would have given him the best chance," they said.

"At the same time, it's the best he's ever did," Kubala said.

Other supporters were more optimistic. "I'm energized to help out in New Hampshire," Joanna Zawada said after Paul's speech. Zawada drove six hours from her home in Champaign, Illinois to attend the caucus watch party. "It was well worth it," she said of the trip.

"It's so exciting!" local Ankeny resident Jeanne Smith told Yahoo News. "It feels real."

When Paul's staff, supporters and family first walked onto the stage tonight looking less than thrilled (Paul's son Rand had an especially grim expression), a supporter in the crowd noticed and tried to cheer them up. "Smile! You're related to Ron Paul!" the man yelled. A few people on stage laughed, and then Paul got down to business

--Rachel Rose Hartman, 10:55 CT

ANKENY, Iowa-- Ron Paul spokesman Gary Howard tells Yahoo News he's pretty pleased by the early results:

"It looks like it's coming down to a two-man race between us and [Mitt] Romney, which is what we've been working for. From this point on, we're going to keep campaigning like it's a two-man race."

Howard said both Paul and his son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, made speeches at separate nearby precincts this evening.

--Rachel Rose Hartman 9:23 p.m. CT

DES MOINES, Iowa--While his rivals campaigned well into Tuesday afternoon, Mitt Romney laid low ahead of tonight's vote.

After an event this morning in downtown Des Moines and a few media interviews, the candidate has stayed largely out of sight—leaving it up to his surrogates, including his wife, Ann, to make his case at caucus sites tonight.

What has Romney been doing all day? His spokeswoman Andrea Saul tells me he's been doing debate prep. There are two debates in New Hampshire this weekend, including an ABC News/Yahoo News debate scheduled for Saturday.

Romney is currently upstairs here at the Hotel Fort Des Moines, the site of his caucus night party, monitoring election returns.

--Holly Bailey, 8:07 p.m. CT

While Rick Perry was greeting supporters at a precinct caucus in Waukee, a woman approached him. "Can I ask you a question?" she asked him. "Come with me," she said. She grabbed his arm and they walked down the a hall toward a wall covered in maps that listed all of the caucus locations in the area.

"I live way over here," she said, pointing to the center of one of the maps. "They want me to vote way over here," she said, pointing to the bottom.

"Alright," Perry said uneasily, not knowing where she would take this.

"So what I'm asking is, why can't I vote here?" she said, referring to the current location.

"I can't answer that question," Perry said.

"Well, can you help me out?" she asked.

"I can take you to the person who can help you answer that question," Perry said.

"I don't want to hear what they have to say," she said. "I want you to help me vote here."

"Well, I can't do that," Perry said.

"Why not?" the woman replied, her pitch rising.

"I can't change the voting law," he said, while a volunteer tried to explain to he woman why she had to vote in her own district.

"I can do a lot of things," Perry said to the woman, "but I can't do magic."

"This is not magic," she said.

"Yes it is," he said.

"Alright," she snapped. "Fine."

"I'm just a participant in the process," Perry said as he slipped away, looking bewildered.

The woman declined to provide her name.

--Chris Moody, 7:06 p.m. CT

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa-- You may be hearing candidates and critics calling Ron Paul "dangerous" and "extreme." Part of this criticism stems from Paul's stated commitment to constitutionality, which he says dictates his opposition to the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Social Security. Yahoo News asked Paul supporters at a campaign event here to offer their thoughts about Paul's positions. All but one said they stand with Paul on all fronts.

--Rachel Rose Hartman, 6:49 p.m. CT

Walking into the caucus site here at Point of Grace Church in Waukee, I'm greeted by supporters of Ron Paul and Rick Perry, who have staked out plum spots by the doors so they can make a strong first impression. Sporting extra large campaign stickers on their shirts, they act as ambassadors for their candidate, opening the doors for everyone walking through like greeters at a fancy hotel. I have to admit, I'm a bit charmed by the whole thing.

In the lobby of the church, Rick Perry holds court, taking time to meet with everyone who approaches him and pose for pictures.

The caucuses begin in fifteen minutes.

--Chris Moody, 6:42 p.m. CT

I'm at the Sheraton West Des Moines, home of Rick Perry's campaign operations. It's gut-check time, just two hours before the caucuses begin. The campaign's area captains gathered together one last time, armed with signs and campaign materials. From here they'll branch off throughout Des Moines to try and persuade the last undecided Iowans to support their guy before the final vote. They departed in teams, two by two. "Go get 'em!" one of the volunteers shouts as they headed out the door.

--Chris Moody, 4:57 p.m. CT

[See pictures from the trail in Iowa]

The Republican presidential campaigns send ambassadors to caucus sites in Iowa to convince any still-undecided voters to join their cause. Beyond the traditional speech, look for some of the campaigns to use new media and technology this year to beef up their last-minute pitches. Supporters for Texas Gov. Rick Perry will arm themselves with iPads and laptops to play this video when the caucusing begins at 7 p.m. Central Time.

--Chris Moody, 4:49 p.m. CT

I just caught a teaser for Tuesday night's Iowa caucus programming on the Fox Business Network. Among the talking heads offering exclusive commentary for the network: Herman Cain, Sarah Palin and Donald Trump. On one show.

--Chris Moody, 3:59 p.m. CT

Television cameramen, glued to their positions behind their cameras, are in a constant war on the campaign trail with roving still photographers, who drive TV cameramen crazy when they stand in places that block their live shots. "Stills down!" is a common phrase you'll hear shouted at a press conference.

One cameraman barked the "stills down!" command so loudly and with such venom at a news conference Saturday at Michele Bachmann's headquarters that Bachmann grabbed the arm of her husband, Marcus, and declared, "He's not going anywhere!"

--Rachel Rose Hartman, 3:33 p.m. CT

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa--On the first day of the spring semester at Valley High School, the senior class filed into the school gym to hear three Republican presidential candidates make their pitch to the young people of Iowa. About 800 students took a seat in the bleachers to listen to Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Ron Paul and four of Mitt Romney's sons, who are campaigning for their father.

I hiked up to the middle of the bleachers after Bachmann spoke and grabbed a seat next to some of the athletes on the girls sports teams. They were atwitter about seeing Ron Paul.

"Is Ron Paul going to be here?" asked Shannon, a softball player.

"Yup," another girl replied.

"Yesssssssss," Shannon said.

That, however, was before Mitt Romney's sons--Josh, Matt, Craig, and Tagg--took the stage. The young women gasped. (Ron who?)

"Yummyyyy," Kylie, another softball player, muttered under her breath.

"What's the name of the one in the checkered shirt?" asked Shannon, a basketball player, pointing to Romney's son Craig. "He's the hottest."

Everyone in my focus group agreed, calling him "the baby."

After the Romney hunks departed, the traveling herd of reporters bolted for the door, where another candidate was about to enter.

"Is that Ron!?" one of the girls blurted out, snapping out of her Romney Boy trance. She strained her neck to see past the basketball hoops.

"No, it's just Rick," another one said, disappointed after spotting Rick Santorum.

"Rick who?" one of the girls asked as Santorum made his way across the floor.

"Wait a minute," Ally, a basketball player said, looking closer. "He's kind of hot."

Now there was some disagreement. One of the students agreed--"Yeah, he's kind of cute"--but another said, "He has a huge face."

The girls weren't thrilled about Santorum's trademark sweater vest. It "makes him a look a little chunky" and "hits him at the wrong spots." Consensus.

When Santorum finished speaking, it was finally time for the main event, Dr. Ron Paul.

When Paul entered, no one could see him because the 76-year-old was smothered by a horde of cameras. Then a small window opened within the throng, and a little face peeped out to the cheering crowd.

"He's got his glasses on," Shannon exclaimed. "Like a BOSS."

"He reminds me of my grandpa! He's so oooold," Kylie remarked, "How bad would you feel if he had a heart attack right now?"

This remark was followed by a very awkward silence, broken by a nearby "GO RON PAUL!"--an exclamation that occurs reliably every few minutes at any Paul event.

Paul began his speech by touting his recent endorsement from pop star Kelly Clarkson, transitioned into his regular talk about ending the war--which drew a roar of applause-- and ended with a lecture on sound money, which drew a roar of yawns.

"Wrap it up, Ron," muttered Shannon, the biggest Paul fan in the bunch.

When Paul stopped talking, the girls forgave him immediately. Like clockwork, one of them stood up and yelled the war chant. "GO RON PAUL!"

--Chris Moody, 2:43 p.m. CT

Mitt Romney's campaign headquarters in Des Moines is located in an abandoned Blockbuster video store. On caucus day, 40 people were working the phones, but no press were allowed to witness their work. Jason Chaffetz, a Republican representative from Utah and a Romney surrogate, was inside talking to volunteers.

-- David Chalian, 1:41 p.m. CT

Mitt Romney didn't attend Tuesday morning's "Rock the Caucus" event at West Des Moines' Valley High School, but he sent four of his sons as surrogates (three of whom are pictured above).

-- Rachel Rose Hartman, 1:23 p.m. CT

What do teenagers like more? Kelly Clarkson or iPhones?

During their speeches this morning to students here at Valley High School, in West Des Moines, Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul each mentioned one of those things in an attempt to connect with a gymnasium full of young people at a "Rock the Caucus" event held for students on the first day back from their winter break.

"This is my iPhone. Anybody got one?" Bachmann asked the crowd. Many hollered in response.

"We love these things. We couldn't imagine living without these things anymore," Bachmann added. But she dropped the connection in the next breath by talking about landlines and the high cost of long-distance calls when she was a kid. "You've got your entire music collection" at hand, Bachmann said of her new phone, and "music videos," "instant T.V.," and "information," she told the students, some of whom smirked to one another, presumably at having the devices explained to them.

Paul, who spoke after Bachmann and Mitt Romney's sons, went for the celebrity endorsement.

"Does anybody here know the name 'Kelly Clarkson?'" Paul asked at the top of his speech. Cheers went up in the audience. "Recently, she endorsed me a couple weeks ago."

"I have to admit I didn't know a whole lot about her," Paul went on to say. "But I do know that our supporters were so enthusiastic about it, they went out and bumped up her sale of records by 600 percent." A few laughs rang out from the crowd, but they mostly remained silent.

-- Rachel Rose Hartman, 1:09 p.m. CT

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa--Steve King, the conservative Republican member of Congress from Iowa, confirmed last night that he will not endorse a Republican presidential candidate before Tuesday night's caucuses. That's why his surprise appearance this morning alongside colleague and ideological twin Michele Bachmann caused a stir.

"I'm now here to ask Michele ..." the Iowa congressman said as reporters listened with rapt attention, "... if she'll sign this pledge" to repeal President Barack Obama's health care law.

Though King offered much praise for Bachmann, all she got from him was a Sharpie marker with which to sign a white posterboard reading, "Repeal Obamacare."

-- Rachel Rose Hartman, 12:49 p.m. CT

The best way to get attention from the news media just before the Iowa caucuses is to hold an event within easy driving distance of Des Moines. Last night, more than 100 reporters showed up in Clive, about 10 miles west of the state capital, to see the final stop of Mitt Romney's bus tour of the state. There were so many journalists in attendance that the event felt like it was being held in late October as opposed to early in the primary season.

But there are downsides to attracting so much media attention. A Romney event early Wednesday morning near downtown Des Moines attracted as many reporters as actual voters—resulting in a noticeably subdued atmosphere. Romney's stump speech, which included several lines trashing President Barack Obama, didn't solicit the wild applause he has generated on the trail in recent days.

If pictures matter--and they do in campaigns--his staff probably wishes they had ended Romney's tour of Iowa on Monday night in Clive.

-- Holly Bailey, 10:05 a.m. CT

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