GOP officials: Santorum edges Romney in Iowa count

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum delivers remarks to Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum delivers remarks to a small crowd inside the Capitol Theatre in Laurens, South Carolina. (Jan. 18, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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COLUMBIA, S.C. - Rick Santorum edged Mitt Romney by 34 votes in a surprise flip to the final tally of the Iowa caucuses, but no winner will be declared because some votes remain missing in the event's closest finish ever, Republican officials said Thursday.

Romney had initially been considered the winner — by just 8 votes — of the first contest in the GOP presidential nomination contest, giving him momentum heading into the New Hampshire primary, which he won handily. The new numbers could give a boost to Santorum, who's trying to undermine Romney's apparent dominance over the field as South Carolina primary voters go to the polls Saturday.

Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn is scheduled to announce the certified vote totals Thursday morning. The Republican officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to pre-empt his announcement, said Strawn wouldn't declare a winner because of the uncounted, missing votes.

An Iowa GOP source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the certified results would show Santorum with 29,839 votes and Romney at 29,805, a difference of 34 votes. But problems in eight of Iowa's 1,774 precincts leave the actual winner unclear.

In a statement, Romney called it a "virtual tie." The former Massachusetts governor praised Santorum's "strong performance" in the state. Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, and other primary candidates are vying for voters seeking a more conservative alternative to Romney.

The Des Moines Register first reported the certified vote totals Thursday.

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