Standing Room Only At GOP Caucus Site

The Iowa caucuses ended with Mitt Romney's extremely narrow victory over Rick Santorum early Wednesday morning. The first presidential nominating contest of 2012 played out at hundreds of sites across the state. And at the secondary school in Van Meter, voters were packed into the lunch room.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

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The Iowa caucuses that gave a narrow win to Mitt Romney, gave a boost to Rick Santorum, knocked Michele Bachmann out of the race and sent Rick Perry home to think came in a series of meetings across the state, and that includes a meeting at the Van Meter Secondary School, where we'll go next. NPR's Sonari Glinton was there.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Politics wasn't the only contact sport being played at Van Meter's Secondary School.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: All right. A pin for Van Meter.

GLINTON: The Van Meter Bulldogs wrestling team was taking on two other schools. That was while Republicans were gathering down the hall in this sweltering lunch room. It was standing room only for the 217 voters packed in together. Like many, Laura Wonder(ph) brought her family. Also, like many, she said the main reason she came out was because of President Obama.

LAURA WONDER: This is the most important election I believe that I've participated in my life. And I have been a participant in the election process since I was 18. And I think that if we can't turn the country around now, or with this next election in 2012, we may never recover.

GLINTON: And it was with that sense of urgency that the caucus began.

TOM HARBISON: Can I get everybody's attention, please? I'm Tom Harbison. I'm the Van Meter caucus chair - temporary chair. And I want to welcome you to this caucus.

GLINTON: A representative for each candidate got up to speak. Chris McLinden(ph) , a corporate recruiter, did the talking for Mitt Romney.

CHRIS MCLINDEN: I want to go into the trenches with Governor Romney against Barack Obama. Barack Obama just raised $75 million the last quarter to go against us on November 6th, 2012.

GLINTON: The chairman ran the caucus with military efficiency. The votes were being counted within about 25 minutes of getting started.

HARBISON: Winning tonight is Romney with 71.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

HARBISON: In second, Santorum with 53.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

GLINTON: There was a tie for third place between Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich.

The divided Van Meter seems to reflect the overall divide among Iowa Republicans: those who are purely fiscal conservatives and those who put social issues first. Laura Wonder says she voted for Rick Santorum, even though she felt a lot of pressure to go for Romney.

WONDER: Romney is not my man. And I feel that a lot of people are pushing for him, but not people that I'm close with, people I know, people I trust. I'm not going that way. I love Rick Santorum and Newt and Michele Bachmann because of their passion. I love them.

GLINTON: Most of the caucus-goers left pretty quickly. But in the parking lot, Steve Tice(ph) stopped to talk to me about Iowa.

STEVE TICE: And I don't whether you're aware, but Iowa is - especially the Des Moines area - is a test market area. And if it flies in Iowa, it might fly someplace else. If it doesn't fly in Iowa, it won't fly anywhere else.

GLINTON: Tice voted for Mitt Romney, who won narrowly. But he says the media pay too much attention to those who end up on top.

TICE: You know, Iowa's not about picking the winner. It's about eliminating some of the guys that just shouldn't have run.

GLINTON: We're likely to see the field thin a bit, even in the next few days. As for Van Meter's wresting team, they wrestled in two meets last night and won both.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Des Moines.

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