Santorum touts Iowa win as sign he's the Romney alternative

The Iowa Republican Party on Thursday released the certified vote totals from this year's Iowa caucuses showing Rick Santorum overtaking Mitt Romney with a 34-vote edge.

Santorum's campaign touted the win as a sign the former senator is the conservative alternative to Romney.

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"We've had two early state contests with two winners — and the narrative that Gov. Romney and the media have been touting of 'inevitability' has been destroyed. Conservatives can now see and believe they don't have to settle for Romney, the establishment's moderate candidate," said Santorum communications director Hogan Gidley in a statement on Thursday.

"This latest defeat of Gov. Romney in Iowa is just the beginning, and Rick Santorum is committed to continuing the fight as the clear, consistent conservative voice in this race," he said.

But results from eight precincts are missing, according to the release. And one official called the result a "split decision."

The official tally gave Santorum 29,839 votes to Romney's 29,805. The results were first reported by the Des Moines Register.

Results from eight precincts were missing and would never be certified, officials said.

“It’s a split decision,” Iowa Republican Party Executive Director Chad Olsen told the paper.

It was originally reported on Jan. 3, the night of the caucuses, that Romney had won by just eight votes, with Santorum finishing second. But as officials certified the results, they recorded counting inaccuracies in 131 precincts from the initial tally.

“Just as I did in the early morning hours on Jan. 4, I congratulate Sen. Santorum and Gov. Romney on a hard-fought effort during the closest contest in caucus history,” said Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn in a statement. “Our goal throughout the certification process was to most accurately reflect and report how Iowans voted the evening of Jan. 3. We understand the importance to the candidates involved, but as Iowans, we understand the responsibility we have as temporary caretakers of the Iowa caucuses.”

The Iowa win provided a boost to Romney, the GOP front-runner, as he headed into New Hampshire, subsequently winning the Granite State's primary.

But with polls showing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) cutting into his lead in South Carolina ahead of a Saturday primary, the new Iowa certified vote totals will increase the pressure on Romney's campaign.

Romney's campaign sought to downplay the turnaround, calling the results a "virtual tie."

"The results from Iowa caucus night revealed a virtual tie," said Romney in a statement, according to CNN.

"I would like to thank the Iowa Republican Party for their careful attention to the caucus process, and we once again recognize Rick Santorum for his strong performance in the state," he added.

The result will give a boost to Santorum, who is running third in South Carolina. A CNN-ORC poll released Wednesday showed him at 16 percent support, behind Romney at 33 percent and Gingrich at 23 percent.

Santorum's campaign had expressed optimism earlier in the week that he would surpass Romney in the certified totals.

"It'd be awesome to find out now that I won that state. What better time to get a little bump in winning Iowa?" Santorum said in an interview on Fox News on Tuesday.

This story was last updated at 10:29 a.m.