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Carolyn Tallett, Republican chairwoman of the Clinton precinct 3-1, leads residents Tuesday night as they caucus at the Clinton County Administration Building.

Ben Jacobson/Clinton Herald
Herald Staff Writer

For several months the political stampede built momentum. The candidates debated, stumped and bickered their way across the Hawkeye state, each one hoping to get a leg up in a crowded presidential race. Ultimately, it was Clinton County that gave former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney the final boost needed to edge former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum by a handful of votes.

Eight to be exact.

And they came from a precinct in Clinton County early this morning, awarded after Clinton’s Ward 2 Precinct 2’s votes were added into the mix after a confusing chain of events.

Clinton County Republican Chairwoman Edith Pfeffer and Republican Women’s president Carolyn Tallett were contacted late last night by CNN’s political coverage team, which was missing counts from Ward two, Precinct two. This led to a post-midnight conversation with Wolf Blitzer and John King of CNN, wherein Tallett and Pfeffer were able to confirm to the nation Romney’s victory.

Pfeffer said she had reported the 2-2 numbers much earlier in the evening, and had relayed final counts to Romney’s campaign team before heading to bed. However, for some reason, the official numbers weren’t relayed by the state committee until much later, providing a dramatic finish to a caucus race with no shortage of storylines.

But now the caucus is over, the dust is settling, and what’s left of the candidates have moved on to New Hampshire, where the circus will begin again. Iowa’s opportunity to be the first state in the nation to get a crack at the presidential challengers, and hopefully provide a focus for the remainder of the race, has been exercised yet again.

Locally, that chance to get in at the ground level of the most involved democratic process in the nation proved appealing to hundreds of area residents. Tallett, also the chairwoman of the Clinton precinct 3-1 caucus, said that she was surprised at the number of caucus attendees, many of whom were first-timers.

“This isn’t the largest group we’ve had, but it’s one of the largest,” Tallett said. “There were a lot of new faces.”

More than 70 attended her caucus, one of eight in the city and many more county wide. Representatives were allowed to speak on behalf of any of the six potential Republican presidential candidates, one of whom will challenge president Barack Obama in the November general election. Ballots were then cast, and were collected by the chairman. Of the field, Santorum, Romney and U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, of Texas, battled it out for first place throughout the night.

• Read updated candidate stories throughout the day in our AP story section.

All three of the predicted top vote getters have spent time in Clinton in the months leading up to the caucus. Santorum has twice visited the area, playing to smaller crowds locally, but has surged in popularity statewide in recent weeks. Romney’s visit in the last week of December drew such a large crowd, a last-second alternate venue had to be utilized to handle the overflow. And Paul entertained a packed house at the Clinton Community College in September, where he espoused his libertarian leaning views on national policy.

Gary Galant is one of the many fervent Paul supporters who had no qualms about going toe to toe with those leaning away from the Texas politician.

“He’s a decent man,” Galant said. “That’s his character. It’s not about him. It’s about the Constitution.”

Romney and Santorum had similar support. Such was the pull of Romney, Tallet said, that he easily gained the most votes in her district even though no one was present to speak on his behalf.

 While casting votes was a primary order of business, electing delegates to represent the precinct at the county convention was also on the agenda. Tallett said that she was happy that so many people were willing to volunteer their time as delegates and alternates.

“This is just a great start for the presidential campaign,” she said. “Everyone was willing to serve. That’s not always the case.”

Though today’s headlines will belong to the Republicans, the Democrats didn’t exactly take the night off. Though the Democratic candidate for president is not in dispute, caucuses were held across the county, as a local platform had to be discussed and delegates appointed. Attendees were even treated to a live video chat with Obama, who was elected several months after winning the Iowa Democrat caucus in 2008.

Obama praised caucus-goers for their dedication, and stressed the importance of staying involved in the election process. He said that since being elected, Democrats have accomplished many things, like healthcare reform and the end of the Iraq war, but much remains to be done.

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do, but think about the change we’ve accomplished,” Obama said, later adding, “Across the board, you have made a difference.”

All eight Clinton precincts met at Clinton Community College, filling the crowded meeting space. Gary Herrity, a volunteer for the Democrats, said the attendance was impressive, given the relatively limited agenda.

“Look at this turnout,” he said. “We don’t even have a choice. We have the best choice (President Obama). ...This is a great turnout. I thought we’d have 30 or 40.”

Elected officials and candidates were present to collect signatures for upcoming state and local races. Clinton County Sheriff Rick Lincoln gave a brief speech, before rushing back to DeWitt to participate in his local caucus. Rita Hart and Dorothy O’Brien, Democrat candidates for the newly shaped District 49 Senate seat were also present to woo potential voters.

New Hampshire’s primary election will take place on Jan. 10, followed by South Carolina on Jan. 21. After that, several other primary elections, including those of 10 states on March 6, also known as “Super Tuesday,” will eventually winnow the field of candidates to one. The general election will be held Nov. 6.

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