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In Iowa, Romney finishes 8 votes ahead of Santorum

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Iowa Republican caucuses ended in a dead heat between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, with Ron Paul finishing a strong third.

Eight votes reportedly separated first-place finisher Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, from Santorum, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. They each took about 25 percent of the vote to 21 percent for Paul, a Texas congressman.

Santorum, a strongly pro-Israel family values conservative, has been the biggest surprise in the run-up to the caucus. Lagging in the polls until last week, he seemed to benefit from cultural and foreign policy conservatives who had despaired of the welter of GOP candidates who had challenged Romney, a relative moderate, before dropping back after they came under closer scrutiny.

The voting seemed also to belie predictions that Paul, a libertarian who favors small government and cutting foreign spending, including assistance to Israel, would be harmed by a barrage of negative attacks from other camps.

According to caucus entrance polls, Paul attracted strong support from younger voters and independents, dominating among these two demographics.

Romney has attracted the strongest Jewish support among Republicans, both in donations and in his advisers. He often has been the regarded as the front-runner but has failed to charge ahead of the pack.

Romney started what amounted to a victory speech with a broadside against Obama’s Iran policy.

"Iran is about to have nuclear weaponry just down the road," he said. "He said he’d have a policy of engagement. How’s that worked out?" 

Romney’s campaign is now focused on pulling out a decisive win in New Hampshire, where voting takes place Jan. 10.

Candidates faring less well in Iowa included Newt Gingrich, the former U.S. House of Representatives speaker; Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.); and Texas Gov. Rick Perry. All three at various times during 2011 had experienced surges in the polls. Among them, only Perry, who garnered just 10 percent of the Iowa caucus vote, said that he would "reassess" his decision to run.

Gingrich in a speech launched broadsides against Romney for what he said was negative campaigning and against Paul for his isolationism.

"I have no doubt about the survival of Israel as a moral cause which we have to recognize as central to our future," Gingrich said, targeting Paul for downplaying Iran’s potential nuclear threat. "An Iranian nuclear weapon is one of the most frightening things we have to confront."

Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor, did not compete in Iowa.

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