Image via Wikimedia Commons/(CC) Gage Skidmore

Who really won in Iowa last night?  Sure, Mitt Romney was declared the official winner of the Republican Iowa Caucus.  But I have the feeling that Rick Santorum is doing a political happy dance right about now, after basically producing a tie with the so-called Republican frontrunner.

Voters endured weeks of spinning and speculation by political observers about how former Massachusetts Governor Romney would undoubtedly win there, even though other candidates, like Ron Paul and Santorum, were closing in on his lead.

Except the Iowa Caucuses didn’t play out the way most observers had predicted.  This Republican campaign season, almost every candidate has had a moment in the spotlight.  Good timing and the interest in him by the same conservative religious voters who gave former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee the win in Iowa four years ago allowed Santorum to surge ahead and almost steal the win from Romney.

Romney eked out a mere eight vote victory over Santorum, but that’s hardly good news for the candidate who spent millions of his own campaign money to convince Iowans he’s their man.  Plus he had the backing of millions more in Super-PAC money that supported a variety of attack ads against the other Republican candidates, especially Newt Gingrich.

So what did Romney do wrong and what did Santorum do right?  That one is simple – Romney made few appearances in Iowa in the lead up to the caucuses compared to Santorum and others.  Most of the other GOP candidates touted that they were going to make appearances in as many of Iowa’s 99 counties as they possibly could.  Old-fashioned politicking, hand-shaking, and meeting and greeting did the trick for Santorum, who made appearances at 370 town hall meetings.

Or maybe it was the sweater vest. Or the pick-up truck.

But seriously, with that kind of time in the state, his super-conservative credentials and the ability to connect one-on-one with voters, similar to candidate Barack Obama in 2008 according to one reporter, it’s not all that surprising that Santorum was able to come out with a virtual tie in Iowa with Romney. But can he keep that up?

Santorum makes no secret of the fact that he is very conservative on certain social issues, so that could create problems for his campaign’s sustainability has he goes forward. While he recently told the TODAY Show he wouldn’t outlaw contraception, he has also said states should be allowed to ban birth control.  That’s a position that won’t be a popular one with most voters and could hurt him with more moderate Americans, even if they like his stand on the economy.

So many Republicans are surely asking themselves today — is Rick Santorum electable in a race against President Obama?  Yes, he was a U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, a state that’s been going more red than blue in the last decade, but he lost his last Senate race in 2006 by almost 20 points to his Democratic challenger.  New Hampshire is the next primary race, and current polling shows him fourth with single digit numbers similar.  But, as Iowa voters proved last night, in the world of presidential politics these days, anything is possible.

A version of this was originally posted at iVillage, where I’ll be heading up the site’s 2012 election coverage along with Kelly Wallace.  We’ll be weighing in on all the issues you want to hear about!

UPDATE: For a true “insider’s” take on what happened in Iowa and what you should understand about the first primary in the country, hop on over to The Broad Side to hear what “@IowaCaucusMom” had to say!