Romney edges Santorum by 8 votes

DES MOINES — Mitt Romney edged Rick Santorum by an eight-vote margin in the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday, spotlighting a sharply divided Republican Party headed for an increasingly tough primary battle.

Romney received 30,015 votes to Santorum's 30,007 votes, according to the Iowa Republican Party—and six votes less than he received in 2008, when he finished second in the state to Mike Huckabee. Romney also won 25 percent of the vote in 2008. 

The virtual tie elevates Santorum into serious contention as the latest, conservative alternative to Romney, capping a surprise, last-minute push in the Iowa caucus he had pinned the entirety of his campaign on. He said it was now "game on."

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"By standing up and not compromising, by standing up and being bold and leading, leading with that burden and responsibility you have to be first, you have taken the first step to taking back this country," a triumphant Santorum told supporters early Wednesday morning in Iowa.

For Romney, the win was muted by an inability to post more than the narrowest of margins, or to win more votes than he did four years ago.

He congratulated Santorum on a "great victory" in a speech to his supporters, though he said he also felt it had been a great victory for his team. 

"We don't know what the final vote tally is going to be, but congratulations to Rick Santorum, this has been a great victory for him and for his effort. He's worked very hard in Iowa," said Romney, who then also congratulated Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who finished third in the race. 



"All three of us will be campaigning very hard to make sure we restore the heart and soul of the entire nation."


Romney and Santorum were deadlocked from the moment results were released and swapped first and second place throughout Tuesday night. At one point early Wednesday morning, Romney led Santorum by a single vote with 99 percent of precincts reporting. The last tallies weren't announced until around 2:30 Wednesday morning.

Paul finished with 21 percent of the vote, while former Speaker Newt Gingrich came in fourth with 13 percent and Rick Perry was fifth with 10 percent.

Iowa generally serves as a contest that winnows the field, and this year appeared it would be no exception.

Perry said he was returning to Texas to "reassess" his campaign, an indication he may drop out of the race. The Texas governor was originally scheduled to be in South Carolina on Wednesday.

"With the voters' decision tonight in Iowa, I have decided to return to Texas, assess the results of tonight's caucus and determine whether or not there is a path forward for myself in this race," he said.

Michele Bachmann, who won the Ames Iowa Straw Poll this summer, rounded out the bottom of the field with 5 percent of the vote, taking sixth place. She told supporters she won't be dropping out, but the result led observers to write her off as a serious contender.

“I believe that I am that true conservative who can and who will defeat Barack Obama in 2012,” she told supporters at her Iowa campaign headquarters. “And over the next few days, just be prepared, the pundits and the press will again try to pick the nominee based on tonight’s results. But there are many more chapters to be written on the path to our party’s nomination and I prefer to let the people of the country decide who will represent us."

Gingrich will also remain in the race, and while he congratulated Santorum on the result he offered criticism of Romney. Gingrich topped polls in Iowa weeks ago, but saw his lead evaporate after he came under attack from other candidates and particulalry from outside groups that supported Romney. 

"We survived the biggest onslaught in the history of the Iowa primary," Gingrich said. "I admire how positive [Santorum] was," the former Speaker added. "I wish I could say that about all the candidates."

The photo finish delighted Democrats, who did not want Romney to enjoy a clear victory. While Romney was the victor, Iowa will not crown him with the GOP nomination, and Democrats are hoping President Obama will benefit from a protracted primary battle. 

"Mitt Romney still failed to convince voters that he could be trusted to help middle class families and those still trying to reach the middle class," Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said in a statement Tuesday night.

"So while the Republican candidates pack up their offices tomorrow morning and head out of town, President Obama will emerge from tonight's caucuses with the strongest grassroots organization and infrastructure in this critical battleground state of any candidate going forward," she said.


♦ Check county-by-county results for the Iowa caucuses


Romney had done very little in Iowa until a month ago, trying to set expectations low after finishing a disappointing second place there four years ago. But in the last month he has made an all-out push for victory there. He pointed out the smaller campaign structure in his Tuesday night speech, saying that this year he had just five full-time staffers in the state after having a 52-person team there in the state.

Romney and Santorum now head to New Hampshire, where polls show Romney with a huge lead. Both are scheduled to campaign in the state on Wednesday, and Romney is expected to garner an endorsement from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the GOP's standard-bearer in 2008 and the winner of that year's New Hampshire primary. 

Romney has a huge advantage in New Hampshire, but Santorum will try to cut into his lead by emphasizing a message that he is the candidate for blue-collar workers, a line that could resonate in the Granite State. 

Money is the former Pennsylvania senator's biggest concern — he raised just $700,000 from July through September, the same period that Romney raised $17 million. Questions about whether he can battle with Romney as the fight moves from New Hampshire to South Carolina and Florida remain. 

Santorum's fundraising numbers have surged since he began his rise in Iowa, according to the campaign.

“We raised more money online this week than we did on the past six months,” said senior Santorum advisor John Brabender. “It will be without a doubt the best quarter we’ve had and the final two weeks were just extremely good for us, we think that bodes well for us going forward.”

Santorum has worked hard in New Hampshire and especially South Carolina, where his field staff may have the best field organization of any campaign at this point, according to Republicans on the ground there. His South Carolina staff told The Hill yesterday that they had 169 volunteers in the state and had 42 of 46 counties organized, while the next-best organized was Newt Gingrich, who had operations set up in 22 counties.

But even if Santorum does well in South Carolina on Jan. 21, he will then have to compete in Florida ten days later, and the state costs $8 million a week just to run advertisements.

“In our campaign world Florida is so far down the road we’re concentrating on Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, and we believe the better we do in those states the better we do in Florida,” said Brabender.

— This story was originally posted at 8:33 p.m. and last updated at 7:14 a.m.