Mitt Romney Beats Rick Santorum by 8 Votes in Iowa Caucuses

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Mitt Romney’s quest to swiftly lock down the Republican presidential nomination with a commanding finish in the Iowa caucuses was spoiled on Tuesday night by the surging candidacy of Rick Santorum, who fought him to a draw on a shoestring budget by winning over conservatives who remain skeptical of Mr. Romney.

In the first Republican contest of the season, the two candidates were separated much of the night by only a sliver of votes, with Mr. Romney being declared the winner by eight ballots early Wednesday morning. But the outcome offered Mr. Santorum a chance to emerge as the alternative to Mr. Romney as the race moves to New Hampshire and South Carolina without Gov. Rick Perry, who announced that he was returning to Texas to assess his candidacy.
“Being here in Iowa has made me a better candidate,” Mr. Santorum said, arriving at a caucus in Clive, where he urged Republicans to vote their conscience. “Don’t sell America short. Don’t put someone out there from Iowa who isn’t capable of doing what America needs done.”
The Iowa caucuses did not deliver a clean answer to what type of candidate Republicans intend to rally behind to try to defeat President Obama and win back the White House. With 99 percent of the vote counted, Mr. Santorum and Mr. Romney, whose views represent the polar sides of the party, each had 24.6 percent.
“Onto New Hampshire, let’s get that job done!” Mr. Romney told supporters at a late-night rally, when he was five votes shy of Mr. Santorum. “Come visit us there, we’ve got some work ahead.”
The last time the Iowa caucuses produced such a close outcome was in 1980, when George Bush beat Ronald Reagan by two percentage points.
Representative Ron Paul of Texas was a close third on Tuesday with 21 percent of the caucus votes.
“We will go on,” he said in an upbeat speech. “There is nothing to be ashamed of.”
The Iowa caucuses, which sounded the opening bell of the Republican contest, did not bring the clarity to the nominating fight as Mr. Romney had hoped.
But even though he did not secure the authoritative victory that he had fought for in the last week, he handily dispatched two rivals who were once seen as his biggest threats, Mr. Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. And Mr. Romney is poised on Wednesday to collect the endorsement of Senator John McCain of Arizona.
Mr. Gingrich was in fourth place with 13 percent of the votes, followed by Mr. Perry with 10 percent and Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota with 5 percent. More than 120,000 Republicans took part in the caucus, a turnout that was slightly higher than four years ago.
With Mr. Perry heading back to Texas, Mr. Gingrich pledged to press forward and be on the stage at the next debate on Saturday in New Hampshire.
“There will be a great debate in the Republican Party before we are prepared to have a great debate with Barack Obama,” Mr. Gingrich said, pledging to raise the intensity of his criticism of Mr. Romney before the next contests. He offered a glimpse at his approach, calling Mr. Romney a liar whose conservative credentials could not be trusted.
The determined band of Republicans caucusgoers streamed into firehouses, gymnasiums and even a few living rooms across Iowa for the precinct meetings. The caucuses do not award any of the 1,150 delegates needed to win the party’s nomination, but the result began reshaping the race as the campaign shifted to New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Source: The New York Times | JEFF ZELENY

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