The closest Iowa caucus results in history produced a near draw, with Mitt Romney winning by just eight votes over Rick Santorum and Ron Paul a close third.
Romney, considered the favorite in the Republican presidential race quest, did not notch a commanding win that could have ended the primary process early.
However, a win's a win, and after a year in which one candidate after another sought to be the conservative alternative to him, a pretty impressive one at that.
Even more remarkable was the finish of Rick Santorum, whose candidacy was so moribund just weeks ago that many wondered why he was still in the race.
The former Pennsylvania Senator was neck-and-neck with Romney, the one-time Governor of Massachusetts, for all of Tuesday night and into this morning.
Romney being declared the winner by a mere eight ballots early Wednesday. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas was a close third with 21 percent of the caucus votes.
“We will go on,” he said in an upbeat speech. “There is nothing to be ashamed of.”
The race was so close, Romney couldn't even claim victory in his speech. With 99 percent of the vote counted, he and Santorum each had 24.6 percent.‘‘We also feel it’s been a great victory for us here,’’ Romney said early today, before the final votes were tallied. "Onto New Hampshire, we've got work to do."
‘‘Thank you so much Iowa,’’ said Santorum, who is also off to N.H. ‘‘You, by standing up and not compromising ..... have taken the first step of taking back this country.’’
The GOP nominating process continues with the New Hampshire primary next Tuesday, followed by the South Carolina primary Saturday, January 21.
The former favors Romney heavily, the latter not so much. Santorum and Newt Gingrich, who placed fourth last night in Iowa, will be contesting it hard.
And Ron Paul ... you can never count out Ron Paul.
You may soon count out Texas Gov. Rick Perry, though. After finishing fifth in Iowa, he announced that he was returning to Texas to assess his candidacy.
Last night's Iowa caucus results:
- Mitt Romney: 24.6%
- Rick Santorum: 24.5%
- Ron Paul: 21.4%
- Newt Gingrich: 13.3%
- Rick Perry: 10.3%
- Michele Bachmann: 5.0%