DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — In a surprise flip, Rick Santorum edged front-runner Mitt Romney by 34 votes in the final tally of the Iowa caucuses, Republican officials said Thursday. But no winner was declared because some votes still remain missing two weeks after the event’s closest contest ever.
The state party initially had declared Romney the victor — by just 8 votes — in the first voting for the Republican presidential nomination, based on the count the morning after the Jan. 3 caucuses.
Iowa Republican Chairman Matt Strawn announced the new, certified totals in a statement Thursday, but said the party would not name an official winner because the results were so close and some votes can’t be counted. Results from 8 of the state’s 1,774 precincts were not certified to the state party by Wednesday’s 5 pm deadline.
“We understand the importance to the candidates involved, but as Iowans we understand the responsibility we have as temporary caretakers of the Iowa caucuses,” said Strawn. He congratulated Santorum and Romney “on a hard-fought effort during the closest contest in caucus history.”
Unofficial election night results from the 8 precincts gave Santorum 81 votes and Romney 46. If those results had been certified, Santorum’s lead in the final tally would have been 69 votes.
Santorum was quick to claim the Iowa victory, saying in a fundraising email that “the incredible news” makes the score for Romney and himself 1-1. Romney followed Iowa with a strong win in New Hampshire. The third contest, South Carolina’s primary, is Saturday.
Romney called the Iowa results a “virtual tie.” In a written statement, the former Massachusetts governor praised Santorum’s “strong performance” in the state.
The certified results: Santorum with 29,839 votes and Romney at 29,805, a difference of 34. Ron Paul finished third with 26,036. Newt Gingrich finished fourth with 16,163 votes. Turnout for the caucuses was 121,503.
Four Lee County precincts are among those listed by the party as not turning in certified vote totals. Lee County GOP Chairman Don Lucas said he believes supporters of a candidate — he’s not sure which — took the certification to report back to the candidate how they did and never brought it back.
“I have the votes right here I think one of the candidates took them,” said Lucas. “We had to put them on the computer and send them to the state.”
“I think people realize it’s a tie,” said former Iowa Republican Chairman Richard Schwarm. “It’s a straw poll that has no impact on how we pick delegates.”
Schwarm noted that actual delegates will be selected later in the spring as Republicans continue their convention process.
The Associated Press projected based on election night results that Romney would end up with 13 delegates and Santorum 12. With the release of the certified tally, the AP is withdrawing one delegate from Romney’s projected total and leaving it unallocated.
“Our goal throughout the certification process was to most accurately reflect and report how Iowans voted on the evening of Jan. 3,” said Strawn.
The new numbers could give a boost to Santorum and other candidates trying to undermine Romney’s dominance over the field as South Carolina voters go to the polls, with the Florida primary next up.
The field narrowed further Thursday as Republican officials said Texas Gov. Rick Perry was abandoning his Republican presidential bid and endorsing Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives.
Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, and other Republican candidates are competing to attract voters seeking a more conservative alternative to Romney, who followed Iowa with a solid victory in New Hampshire, the second contest of the nomination race.
The Des Moines Register first reported the certified caucus totals on Thursday.