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Santorum declares victory after revised Iowa caucus total

 

The Republican Party of Iowa announced Thursday that Rick Santorum finished ahead of Mitt Romney in its Jan. 3 caucuses, meaning the contest resulted in a virtual tie between the two candidates. 

After more than two weeks of certifying the results, the former Pennsylvania senator pulled ahead of Romney by 34 votes despite Romney being declared the winner on Jan. 3 by an 8 vote margin.

The final official numbers stand at Santorum with 29,839 and Romney with 29,805, but the results from eight of the 1774 precincts could not be located and certified, leaving lingering questions as to who is the actual winner of the Iowa Caucus.

NBC News will not declare a winner in the Iowa Caucus. With the missing precincts, it is impossible to know the final results.

But the Santorum campaign believes the former Pennsylvania senator is the winner of the caucus – campaign email reads “Santorum wins Iowa” – and that this new development will perhaps help him the South Carolina primary on Saturday.

"We've had two early state contests with two winners — and the narrative that Governor Romney and the media have been touting of 'inevitability' has been destroyed,” National Communications Director Hogan Gidley said in a statement about the candidate.

“This latest defeat of Governor Romney in Iowa is just the beginning, and Rick Santorum is committed to continuing the fight as the clear, consistent conservative voice in this race,” the statement continued. Santorum was the one candidate who practically lived in Iowa – holding more events in the Hawkeye State than anyone else this cycle.

The Romney campaign, which always downplayed expectations in the state, is also pushing this as a tie.

“The results from Iowa caucus night revealed a virtual tie,” Mitt Romney said in a written statement released by his campaign. “I would like to thank the Iowa Republican Party for their careful attention to the caucus process, and we once again recognize Rick Santorum for his strong performance in the state. The Iowa caucuses, with record turnout, were a great start to defeating President Obama in Iowa and elsewhere in the general election.”

Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn said the verdict from the first-in-the-nation caucus state is just too close to call.

“Just as I did in the early morning hours on January 4, I congratulate Senator Santorum and Governor Romney on a hard-fought effort during the closest contest in caucus history,” Chairman Strawn said in a statement. “Our goal throughout the certification process was to most accurately reflect and report how Iowans voted the evening of January 3. We understand the importance to the candidates involved, but as Iowans, we understand the responsibility we have as temporary caretakers of the Iowa caucuses.”

It is important to note that the Iowa Caucus results are not binding, meaning the results do not dictate which candidate the delegates at the national conventions in the summer have to vote for. So not having an actual “winner” of the caucuses will not have as big of an impact as it would in other binding states.

But a shift in results — from Romney ahead on caucus night, to Santorum now ahead weeks later — does appear to raise some questions about the Iowa Caucus process.

"This is bad news for the Iowa caucuses.  It undermines their credibility in future presidential races. When so much is riding on an accurate count, to flub the counting will diminish the significance of the events in the future,” former longtime Des Moines Register political reporter David Yepsen told NBC News.

"Plenty of people are looking for reasons not to come to Iowa and this gives them another. You could title this story as Farewell to Corn Dogs," Yepsen said, who also noted that this isn’t the first time Iowa Caucus result have been called into questions. “Given that, the Iowa Republicans were on notice and should have done more to guard against this problem."

And no matter how the results turned out weeks later, many believe the limelight already passed for the “winner” — it passed on Jan. 3.

“This result doesn't change anything. The narrative was set following the caucuses, and reset after the New Hampshire primaries,” one Republican strategist and caucus veteran said.