Politics

In Iowa, Romney edges out Santorum by 8 votes

DES MOINES, Iowa — Eight votes.

That’s all that separated Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum when the dust settled on the GOP Iowa caucuses, after what was undoubtedly the closest Hawkeye State contest in memory. The 122,255 caucus-goers awarded 30,015 votes to Romney and 30,007 to Santorum.

After hours of waiting for two holdout precincts to report their vote totals, one filed its results and another’s were seemingly lost.

The last precinct in Keokuk County made its results official just after 1:00 a.m. Central Standard Time, around the same time GOP political strategist Karl Rove was reporting  what — according to his source at the Republican National Committee — happened to the final precinct tally in eastern Iowa’s Clinton County.

In Clinton County, Rove said, a missing vote tally prompted observers from the Romney and Santorum camps to huddle together and agree on what the reported totals should have been. Their consensus, which Fox News later confirmed through a second source, was that Romney prevailed by 18 votes.

That scenario overcame a previous four-vote Santorum edge and appeared to award Romney a 14-vote victory. When Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn made the final announcement at 1:34 a.m., however, he said the margin was just eight votes. Strawn also cautioned that precincts have two weeks to officially certify their results.

Hours before the margin between the two top finishers reached photo-finish dimensions, Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, led an emotional speech to supporters with a clarion call of “Game on!” Santorum told his crowd that he was taking his surging campaign to New Hampshire in an effort to solidify his role as the conservative alternative to Romney.

Like Santorum, Romney made a speech to a lightly attended roomful of less energized supporters just before midnight in Iowa when the race was still too close to call.

“On to New Hampshire. Let’s get that job done,” Romney said.

The Santorum–Romney battle was a match-up Tuesday night that could hardly have been imagined just weeks ago when Santorum was polling in the single digits.

For most of Tuesday night, the two were in a virtual tie with Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who finished third.

While Romney emerged with a razor-thin victory, Santorum will be considered the ultimate winner. He outperformed everyone’s expectations, catapulting himself from single-digit political purgatory into a leading role through a methodical campaign schedule that took him to all of Iowa’s 99 counties long before his competitors.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who last month was the favorite to win the contest in the Hawkeye State, placed fourth.

There are more than 1,700 precincts across Iowa. Voters across the state gathered at 7:00 p.m. sharp to obtain ballots, recite the Pledge of Allegiance, listen to surrogates for the candidates give speeches, and vote by writing a name on a piece of paper.

At the Seven Flags Event Center caucus just outside Des Moines, one of the larger precincts, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was the only candidate to show up in person.

His supporters handed out brochures at the door to the caucus. “Second look at Gov. Perry?” they said.

In a speech Tuesday night, Perry choked up as he read aloud a letter from a supporter who called him a great man. He said he plans to reassess whether there’s a path for him to remain in the race.

Former Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who won the Iowa straw poll in August, placed last among the candidates who campaigned in earnest for Iowa voters’ support.

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