Final Iowa Results: Santorum Leads, but We'll Never Know Who Won

Rick Santorum collected more caucus votes in Iowa, by the state party's count, but we'll never know who really won.

The Republican Party of Iowa told the Des Moines Register Thursday morning that the final count shows Santorum winning by 34 votes after precincts certified their results. But eight precincts' results will never be recovered and certified, party officials told the paper.

The current, incomplete count: 29,839 votes for Santorum and 29,805 votes for Mitt Romney.

On caucus night, precinct officials phoned in results to an automated system  after they'd counted the votes by hand. As the last precincts reported their votes, the tally swung back and forth into the wee hours of Jan. 4. Since the Iowa Republican Party announced on caucus night that Romney had edged Santorum by a mere eight votes, it has been collecting certified results forms from Iowa's counties and precincts.

Thursday's results are final. Santorum will forever hold a lead with incomplete returns.

By now, though,  it may not matter  whether Santorum officially won. Before Thursday morning's announcement, the candidate and major media outlets had already declared Iowa an effective tie, and Iowa does not award delegates to any candidate. Unlike for most states, Iowa's delegates to the Republican National Convention are free to support whichever candidate they choose, and the state will not select those delegates until June.

Any boost to Santorum will be emotional and psychological. Thursday's results could help him as he heads into the South Carolina primary this Saturday if they further legitimize him in the eyes of any on-the-fence South Carolina voters. But they are not likely help him to raise money: While Santorum raised a flood of cash after his strong Iowa showing, he's already missed out on any extra donations he would have attracted in the following days, had the Iowa GOP announced him the winner in the early morning hours of Jan. 4.

A few days before South Carolinians vote, attention  has already turned to the next result.

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