Romney wins Iowa by 8 votes over Santorum

UPDATE: Texas Gov. Rick Perry tweeted that he is on to South Carolina and still in the race.

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UPDATE: ABC News reports that Michele Bachmann has suspended her presidential campaign.

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Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney narrowly led former U.S. senator Rick Santorum by just eight votes out of 122,225 cast to claim first place in the 2012 Iowa caucuses Tuesday night.

The results of the voting remained uncertain throughout the evening, until the final county to report pushed Romney past Santorum at roughly 2 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Congressman Ron Paul finished third, with 21 percent of the vote, compared to the 25 percent each for Romney and Santorum.  Former House speaker Newt Gingrich was fourth, at 13 percent.

In addressing his supporters in Iowa Tuesday night, Gingrich praised Santorum for running what he said was a clean campaign, while attacking Paul’s foreign-policy positions and questioning Romney’s conservative credentials. In early December, Gingrich had led most polls in the Hawkeye State before seeing his advantage fade, which he largely attributed to negative ads run against him by Paul and a super PAC favoring Romney.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry finished fifth, with 10 percent of the vote. After the caucuses Tuesday evening, Perry announced that he would return to his home state to assess his campaign, which could signal his forthcoming departure from the race.

Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota – and an Iowa native – finished behind Perry at 5 percent.

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who skipped the Iowa caucuses to focus on the New Hampshire election, received 1 percent of the vote.

It is to New Hampshire that the candidates now turn their attention for that state’s first-in-the-nation primary next Tuesday. Polls show Romney with a strong lead in the Granite State, which he hopes to maintain after winning Iowa. In 2008, Romney placed second in Iowa to Mike Huckabee, then lost New Hampshire to the party’s eventual nominee, John McCain.

Santorum’s razor-thin second-place finish could bring with it new momentum and fund-raising potential after he had largely been relegated to the lower tier of candidates. However, he will also likely face intense scrutiny and attacks much like previous surprise front-runners Gingrich and Herman Cain.

Yet, if Perry does depart from the contest, Santorum could stand to gain many of the former’s social conservative supporters. Whether Santorum can build on his strong finish in Iowa will be seen next week in New Hampshire and in the South Carolina primary that follows on Jan. 21.

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