Courier Staff Writer
It came down to three votes Tuesday night.
According to the unofficial count at the Wapello County GOP Caucus as of presstime, Rick Santorum barely snuck by Ron Paul, 199-196.
Newt Gingrich came in a relatively close third with 152 votes.
Wapello County’s 21 precincts came together at Ottumwa High School Tuesday night for the state’s first-in-the-nation caucus. Wapello County GOP Chair Trudy Caviness said she believes numbers were well over 1,000 — topping the 2008 election’s turnout.
“It’s exciting to see this many people,” Caviness said.
Caviness said there were also a large amount of Democrats and independents turning out to register as Republicans in order to have a say in the results.
The evening started off with information from Caviness, a prayer led by Phil Cavanaugh, buckets passed around for donations to the Wapello County GOP and speeches from candidate representatives.
Five candidates’ representatives gave speeches in the high school auditorium: Rep. Sam Graves (R-Kansas City, Mo.) for Rick Perry, Jack Hunter for Paul, Rick Vick for Santorum, Randy Davis for Gingrich and Sen. Mark Chelgren (R-Ottumwa) for Michele Bachmann.
Graves said Perry is “conservative out of conviction, not out of convenience.”
“He wants to make Washington as inconsequential in your life as he possibly can,” Graves said.
Next up was Hunter, who said Paul’s plan to cut $1 trillion from the budget in his first year is unmatched by his opponents.
“The greatest threat to our country is national debt,” Hunter said.
Vick said Santorum’s morals are what sets him apart.
“Asking us to surrender these moral issues is to ask us to stop being American,” Vick said. “We have found our warrior.”
Davis said Gingrich is not a “professional promise-maker, but a professional do-er.”
Finally, Chelgren lauded Bachmann’s personal and political history, saying, “I vote for what I believe in, not who can win.”
Both Hunter and Chelgren said President Barack Obama is the “worst president in U.S. history.”
For many residents, this was their first caucus.
“I’ve never lived in Iowa before so this is really cool,” said Kara Fischer, of Ottumwa’s third precinct.
Though she already knew she would be voting for Bachmann before coming to the high school, Chelgren’s speech supporting the candidate only solidified her convictions.
“I vote with someone who I really feel has strong values,” Fischer said, echoing Chelgren’s statements earlier in the night.
Another Ottumwan’s first caucus turned out in his favor.
“We need to make sure we get someone in that can beat Obama,” said Bill Liles, who voted for Santorum. “Iowa’s voice needs to be heard.”
Joyce Waters, of Blakesburg, came out to help register voters during her second caucus.
Waters said she’s changed her mind multiple times throughout the campaigning process, in line with the continually fluid race to the top.
Wapello County Caucus results break-down:
Rick Santorum: 199
Ron Paul: 196
Newt Gingrich: 152
Rick Perry: 119
Mitt Romney: 103
Michele Bachmann: 74
Jon Huntsman: 5
Sarah Palin: 2 write-ins