DES MOINES – First, it was a trickle. Then, a flood.
Shortly after 8 p.m., after they’d done their duties at nearby caucus sites, dozens of supporters of the former Massachusetts governor came in a wave to the historic hotel at 10th and Walnut,the site for Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton in 2008 and John Kerry in 2004.
In time, Romney was expected to make remarks in a large ballroom on the second floor.
Content to get a drink and file into the grand ballroom, the growing group mingled while awaiting Romney’s appearance, expected later in the evening.
Mike Regan and Megan Zach had just gone to a downtown Des Moines precinct. “I registered as a Republican at 6:50 p.m., and I voted at 7:20 for Mitt Romney,” Regan said.
Attracted by Romney’s centrism, Regan said others in the field were too far to the right. He added that if Romney squares off against President Obama in the general election, he’d be in the undecided column right now.
Brian Kennedy, the Bettendorf lawyer who’s chairing Romney’s Iowa campaign, said shortly before 8:30 p.m. he was encuoraged by the results as Romney, Ron Paul and Rick Santorum were locked in a tight race for the top. Later, it was Romney and Santorum battling for first while Paul was finishing third.
“I think it looks good,” Kennedy said, noting Romney’s position in New Hampshire and South Carolina, other early voting states that follow Iowa.
In addition to doing well in eastern Iowa, Kennedy said that Romney was picking up support in some central Iowa precincts where he’d lagged four years ago.
It was a mostly festive crowd at the hotel, a frequent site for post-caucus parties. It was interrupted briefly by a protestor, who was saying repeatedly as he was led out: “Free speech is at risk.” The man complained that corporate money was polluting politics.
At 10:15, after Ron Paul had given his speech at his own post-caucus party and Newt Gingrich was beginning his, the crowd here were awaiting Romney’s appearance.