Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has won the Iowa Republican party caucuses, narrowly beating social conservative Rick Santorum in the first nominating contest of the 2012 U.S. presidential election.
A party official announced early Wednesday that longtime front-runner Romney beat emerging Republican favorite Santorum by only eight votes, making it one of the closest races in Iowa caucus history.
“But I can report, with 1770 reporting, Governor Mitt Romney received 30,015 votes, Senator Rick Santorum received 30,007 votes. Congratulations to Governor Mitt Romney, winner of the 2012 Iowa caucuses.”
Romney and Santorum each received nearly 25 percent of the vote. In third place was anti-war advocate Ron Paul with 21 percent.
In a speech from Iowa’s capital city, Des Moines, Romney criticized U.S. President Barack Obama’s record on the economy and Iran.
“We face an extraordinary challenge in America and you know that, and that is internationally, Iran is about to have nuclear weaponry, just down the road here, and this president, what’s he done in that regard? He said he’d have a policy of engagement.”
But many political analysts noted that Romney gathered the same percentage of votes as he did in his failed 2008 presidential campaign, despite spending more money in Iowa this time. Some said that indicated Romney had failed to attract broad Republican support.
Santorum’s campaign got off to a slow start, but he pulled from behind in the polls in the month leading up to the Iowa caucus. He described his faith as the reason for his success in Iowa.
“Every morning when I was getting up in the morning to take on that challenge, I required a strength from another particular friendship, one that is sacred. I’ve survived the challenges so far by the daily grace that comes from God.”
Tuesday’s results in Iowa may not reflect the eventual Republican nominee. But the caucuses often push weak contenders out of the race.
Fourth-place finisher Newt Gingrich, a fomer speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, vowed to campaign on.
But Texas Governor Rick Perry, who came in fifth place, said he would return to Texas to reconsider his campaign.
Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann finished sixth and has canceled plans to campaign in South Carolina, which holds its state primary January 21.
Former U.S. ambassador Jon Huntsman came in last with one percent. Huntsman has not campaigned in Iowa. He is pinning his hopes on a good showing in the New Hampshire primary on January 10.
President Obama’s campaign manager called the Iowa caucus results a victory for the “extremist Tea Party agenda.” In an email to supporters, Jim Messina said that the Republican candidates will “run even further to the extreme right, and make even more dangerous promises that threaten not only the progress we’ve made but the fundamental fabric of American society.”
The Democratic Party also held its caucuses Tuesday. President Obama was unopposed for the party nomination. However, he faces a difficult campaign to win another term in the November election, because of the sluggish economy.