David Goldman, Associated Press
Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during a campaign stop at the Beacon Drive-In, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012, in Spartanburg, S.C.
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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, but no winner was declared because some votes remain missing in the event's closest finish ever.
Romney had initially been considered the winner — by just 8 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.
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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.