Iowa caucuses win split between Romney and Santorum

Rick Santorum A late surge from nowhere propelled Rick Santorum to possible victory in Iowa

Iowa's Republican caucuses have been certified as a split decision between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney because of missing data.

Former Massachusetts Governor Romney was declared the winner of the 3 January presidential nominating contest by eight votes.

But a new count by state officials puts Mr Santorum ahead by 34 votes.

However, results are missing from eight precincts. The Romney campaign said in a statement it was a "virtual tie".

The news was first reported by the Des Moines Register.

Mr Romney is the front-runner in the state-by-state race for the Republican Party's nomination to challenge Democratic President Barack Obama for the White House this November.

Iowa Republican Party chairman Matt Strawn announced the new results at a news conference on Thursday morning.

According to the certified vote totals, Mr Santorum won 29,839 votes while Mr Romney had 29,805 - a difference of 34 ballots.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul finished third with 26,036.

A result flips, but does Mitt flop?

The narrative could be about to change. Remember, Iowa was never about how many delegates are won, it is about perception and momentum. So the new story line for opponents will go something like this:

"No-one is really enthusiastic about Mitt. He's the reluctant pick of many because he looks like a winner. He's ahead in the polls, simply because he's always been ahead in the polls.

"But if he didn't win in Iowa and doesn't win in South Carolina, the rationale for his success is blown out of the water. Nothing fails like failure."

This a bit muddled. He's ahead because conservatives can't agree on an alternative, and many middle-of-the-road Republicans like the fact he's less radical and think he can beat Obama by reaching out to those in the centre ground.

Cool heads might conclude Iowa was in effect a tie on the night, and is still a tie now, but this flip flop is one Mitt can ill afford, and it just might help change the dynamic.

But the state Republican Party has not named an official winner because of the vote-count muddle.

Results from eight of the state's 1,774 precincts are missing.

"Just as I did on the early morning hours on January 4, I congratulate Sen Santorum and Gov Romney on a hard-fought effort during the closest contest in caucus history,'' Mr Strawn said.

Doubt was first cast on the result soon after Mr Romney was declared the winner, when a vote-counter in one precinct said the published figures differed from what he observed.

At the time, state Republican officials played down any suggestion of inaccuracies.

Mr Romney went on to enjoy a solid win in New Hampshire, where the second presidential nominating contest was held. Mr Santorum came fifth in that contest.

Santorum campaign spokesman Hogan Gidley told CNN on Thursday: "The narrative for a long time has been that Mitt Romney was 2-0.

"If these results are true and Rick is ahead by 34 votes, then that's not the narrative anymore."

In a statement early on Thursday from Boston, Mr Romney said: "The results from Iowa caucus night revealed a virtual tie.

"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."

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