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Still Romney's to Lose Still Romney's to Lose

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Still Romney's to Lose

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Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, greets supporters at his caucus night rally in Des Moines, Iowa, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2012.(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

No matter who wins Iowa's caucuses, this broader bottom line remains: Mitt Romney is the odds-on favorite to win the Republican presidential nomination, and the quirky caucuses padded his hand.

Early returns suggest that one of three candidates will win Iowa: Romney, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas or former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. But over the long term, who lost big in Iowa may mean more than who won.

The two biggest threats to Romney finished out of the running: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Their donor bases and political standing made them the most likely candidate to emerge as a conservative alternative to Romney.

Now, suddenly, they are limping out of Iowa -- Gingrich to New Hampshire and Perry to South Carolina -- and the question remains: Who will be the anybody-but-Romney candidate? Santorum laid claim to that title with a late surge in Iowa, but others have emerged as the conservative favorite -- and fallen.

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