Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, left, speaks as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney listens at the South Carolina Republican presidential candidate debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C., Monday, Jan. 16, 2012. (Credit: Pool,AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Rick Santorum is leading front-runner Mitt Romney by 34 votes in a surprise flip to the final tally of the Iowa caucuses, but no winner will be declared because some votes remain missing in the event's closest finish ever, Republican officials said Thursday.
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 is scheduled to announce the certified vote totals Thursday morning. Republican officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to pre-empt his announcement, said Strawn wouldn't declare a winner because some votes can't be counted. Votes from 8 of the state's 1,774 precincts are missing.
Although the final tally from the Jan. 3 caucuses remains excruciatingly close, 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.
An Iowa GOP source, also speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the certified results would show Santorum with 29,839 votes and Romney at 29,805, a difference of 34. Ron Paul finished third with 26,036 votes.
In a statement, Romney called it 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 race.
The Des Moines Register first reported the certified caucus totals on Thursday.
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