The first vote by US Republican supporters to choose their eventual presidential candidate has ended in a virtual dead heat.
The surprise of the Iowa caucuses was the performance of newcomer Rick Santorum. Running neck and neck throughout the night with favourite Mitt Romney, the social conservative finished just eight votes behind.
Out of more than 120,000 votes in total, Santorum and Romney polled more than 30,000 each.
Santorum thanked all those who had turned out, saying: “Thank you so much Iowa… you, by standing up and not compromising, by standing up and being bold and leading. Leading with that burden and responsibility you have, to be first (to vote). You’ve taken the first step of taking back this country,” he said.
However Santorum may not have the resources and organisation of the more moderate Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor is likely to remain the principle Republican challenger in other primaries.
“I love the fact that this is a land of opportunity. Let us restore the greatness of America and keep this land the hope of the Earth. Thank you so much for all your help,” Romney told supporters.
It is too early to say how much bearing Iowa will have on the Republicans’ race for the White House. The results saw Ron Paul, who had strong grass roots support, finish in third place. He and Newt Gingrich, who himself saw a revival in his popularity, have vowed to continue.
For Rick Perry whose campaign had been damaged by a series of gaffes, Iowa was a huge disappointment. He has said he will return to Texas to reassess his presidential bid. It is thought he may pull out.
Tea Party candidate Michele Bachmann, whose popularity had already faded before the vote, came last but one. Her campaign now hangs in the balance, with doubts growing over whether she will have the funds to continue.