COLUMBIA, S.C. — Rick Santorum edged front-runner Mitt Romney by 34 votes in a surprise flip to the final results of the Iowa caucuses, Republican officials said Thursday.
However, the officials did not declare a winner because some votes remain missing in the event's closest finish ever.
Romney had initially been considered the winner — by just eight votes — of the first contest in the GOP presidential nomination contest.
Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn announced the certified totals for the Jan. 3 caucuses at a news conference, but didn't name an official winner because some votes can't be counted. Results from 8 of the state's 1,774 precincts are missing.
"Just as I did on the early morning hours on Jan. 4, I congratulate Sen. Santorum and Gov. Romney on a hard-fought effort during the closest contest in caucus history," Strawn said.
The certified results: Santorum with 29,839 votes and Romney at 29,805, a difference of 34. Ron Paul finished third with 26,036.
The new numbers could give a boost to Santorum and other candidates trying to undermine Romney's dominance over the field as South Carolina primary voters go to the polls Saturday.
In a statement, Romney called the Iowa results a "virtual tie." The former Massachusetts governor praised Santorum's "strong performance" in the state.
Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, and other GOP candidates are vying 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.
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