14th UPDATE: 11:25 p.m. EST: I think we're going to find out in the coming days the kind of backbone Mitt Romney has; Newt Gingrich has left little doubt that he will be going after the former Massachusetts governor much like Romney did to Gingrich in Iowa.
13th UPDATE: 11:19 p.m. EST: Newt Gingrich speaking, noting that "there will be a great debate within the Republican Party" before it has a debate with President Obama.
He also offers compliments to Rick Santorum for running a positive campaign. "I wish I could say that about all the candidates," Mr. Gingrich adds.
12th UPDATE: 11:12 p.m. EST: Paraphrasing Ron Paul -- there are three winners tonight, and this campaign is heading to New Hampshire. "There is nothing to be ashamed of" and it's time to move on to New Hampshire.
11th UPDATE: 11:09 p.m. EST: Ron Paul delivering his concession speech, so to speak. And his son, Kentucky senator Rand Paul, looks like he chewed and swallowed nails.
10th UPDATE: 10:40 p.m. EST: If you are watching television coverage of the Iowa Caucuses, then you are seeing an interesting contrast.
On one hand, you have the caucus process -- it isn't fast; it relies on personal interaction; and it leaves media people maddeningly frustrated.
On the other hand, you have the media process -- it demands promptness; it regularly eschews any meaningful personal interaction; and it leaves large parts of the country feeling less than satisfied.
Care to guess which one is winning tonight?
9th UPDATE: 10:14 p.m. EST: Regardless of your opinion of former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, how much money would you have given me, say, three months ago, if I had told you he would finish in the top three in the Iowa Caucuses (not to mention might win it)?
More importantly, what does Mr. Santorum's rise to (perhaps) the top of the Iowa Caucuses tell us about:
1. The current state of the Republican Party
2. The voters of Iowa
3. The media's inability (if that's the right word) to kill off candidates?
8th UPDATE: 9:46 p.m. EST: These are some of the important questions for Republicans coming out of the Iowa Caucuses, regardless of who wins.
1. If there is indeed a pro-Romney and anybody-but-Romney camp within the Republican Party, then when do those factions begin to discuss their differences?
2. Lacking money and substantial on-the-ground organization in upcoming states, how does Rick Santorum build on the momentum he now has?
3. When do Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann drop out?
4. If and when Mr. Perry or Ms. Bachmann do suspend their campaigns, will they endorse Mr. Santorum?
5. If Ron Paul cannot win the GOP nomination, then what is he in it for?
6. Can Newt Gingrich rebound?
7th UPDATE: 9:26 p.m. EST: Unbelievable! CNN's Jim Acosta is interviewing real Iowans! And that interview lasted only 30 seconds. I've been flipping among CNN, FOX and MSNBC since 8:00, and this is the first interview with caucus goers.
Come on, media, let's hear from real people. I promise they won't blow up your beautiful graphics or sound any more or less intelligent than some of your political analysts.
6th UPDATE: 9:19 p.m. EST: If former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney received about 25 percent of the vote in Iowa four years ago and lost, and then winds up with about 25 percent of the vote in Iowa tonight without a clear victory, then what does that tell us about him as a Republican candidate?
It appears that he is considered the "safe" candidate, meaning the one in the Republican crowd who can beat President Obama. But if that's the case, then why isn't that carrying over to votes?
Of course, part of that answer is his religion -- evangelical Christians have significant doubts about Mr. Romney's Mormon faith, and based on what we see in the voting thus far tonight he has not convinced those evangelicals in Iowa that he's worthy of their vote.
We can expect that hesitancy to carry over when the Southern states hold their primaries.
5th UPDATE: 9:10 p.m. EST: This Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism report begins to get at some of my earlier posts, but I continue to seek something more specific.
4th UPDATE: 9:01 p.m. EST: I'm still tracking down data that I know exist, but there is something else to consider about Ron Paul: The degree to which he is ignored by the mainstream media when compared to the coverage given the other Republican presidential candidates.
The issue is this: What happens starting tomorrow when it becomes clear that Ron Paul is definitely a top-tier candidate. (And see 2nd update below for more on that.)
Meanwhile, MSNBC's Howard Fineman is reporting that advisers to Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann are expected to discuss with her how and when she will exit the Republican presidential race.
3rd UPDATE: 8:52 p.m. EST: One other thing that troubles me about tonight's cable television coverage -- lots of talking heads, but not a lot of interviews with Joe and Josephine American. Yes, the media have invested plenty of resources into nice graphics, reporters throughout the state and all sorts of analysts. In doing so, they are leaving out the men and women who attended and voted in tonight's caucuses.
2nd UPDATE: 8:43 p.m. EST: Much is being made on television coverage (especially in one segment I saw on MSNBC) of what Ron Paul's success tonight could mean. Remember, I'm not following one network but instead flipping from one to another, but I believe I see a consistency to the reporting: A win by Paul would shake up the GOP and force it to much more strongly consider his message or to dismiss him as enjoying success in a state that is not typically Republican.
Here's the rub, in my opinion: The media appear surprised that Mr. Paul is doing well. How can that be? To me, it would be a surprise if, for example, Texas Gov. Rick Perry or former Speaker Newt Gingrich finished at or near the top of the caucuses.
Rep. Paul's supporters were evident throughout Iowa and the pre-caucus polls indicated he was expected to do well.
1st UPDATE: 8:38 p.m. EST: There are multiple places online where you can find live results from Iowa. I'm using The Hill's site.
ORIGINAL POST: ...I am sensing a couple themes from the cable news media talking heads
1. Want Ron Paul to win Iowa
2. Don't particularly like Mitt Romney
3. Don't expect Paul to run as an independent/Libertarian/some 3rd party candidate
4. It will be Romney vs Paul vs Santorum with Gingrich and Huntsman hanging on for dear life