Mitt Romney Tops Rick Santorum in Iowa Photo Finish

Updated: 5 a.m.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney edged former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) by the narrowest of margins — eight votes — in what amounted to the closest Iowa caucuses in recent history.

Romney received 30,015 votes to Santorum's 30,007, with each getting roughly 25 percent of the ballots cast in the first state to vote in the GOP's 2012 presidential nominating season.

On Tuesday evening, Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) claimed third place, followed by former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) in fourth place, Texas Gov. Rick Perry in fifth place and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) in sixth place.

Perry’s disappointing finish caused him to reconsider his candidacy, blowing off his scheduled trip to campaign in South Carolina so he can return to Texas and reconsider his bid.

The close Iowa results kick off the GOP’s presidential nominating process. Several candidates — including Santorum, Romney, Paul and Gingrich — indicated they were headed straight to New Hampshire today to campaign for the Jan. 10 primary.

Both Santorum and Romney waited to give their speeches until after midnight as the vote tally bounced back and forth, separated by a painfully close margin.

Santorum credited his unexpected showing to a strong retail strategy in Iowa.

“Thank you so much, Iowa,” Santorum said. “You, by standing up and not compromising, by standing up and being bold, and leading with that burden and responsibility you have to be first, you have taken the first step of taking back this country.”

In his speech, Romney looked ahead to New Hampshire.

“We don’t know what the final vote tally is going to be, but congratulations to Rick Santorum,” Romney called out to supporters. “Thank you, Iowa, for the great send-off you’re giving to us and the other candidates in this campaign.”

Speaking earlier in the night, Paul told supporters he would continue to garner momentum.

“This momentum is going to continue and this movement is going to continue, and we are going to keep scoring, just as we have tonight,” Paul told his supporters ahead of his trip to the Granite State. “We will go on, we will raise the money. I have no doubt about the volunteers — they’ll be there.”

Gingrich pledged to continue his primary campaign to the Granite State despite his lackluster finish. Super PACs supportive of Romney pummeled Gingrich on the Iowa airwaves in recent weeks, forcing the former Speaker to break his pledge to run a positive race. He congratulated Santorum for waging a “positive campaign” but barked that Romney was “a Massachusetts moderate who will manage the decay of America.”

GOP caucus-goers picked their candidates during a single round of secret ballot voting in all of the state’s 1,774 precincts. The vote is not binding, and Iowa Republicans will send their allotted 28 delegates to the Republican National Convention to pick the nominee later this spring.

Nonetheless, Iowa caucuses mark the first major test for GOP presidential candidates in 2012. As the results trickled in to the Iowa Republican Party, GOP officials started calling for some candidates, especially Bachmann, to consider dropping out of the race.

Bachmann invested heavily in her native Iowa, but her campaign quickly sunk in the polls after her first-place finish at the Ames Straw Poll in August. On Fox News on Tuesday evening, Bachmann’s former campaign manager, Ed Rollins, joined the GOP chorus insisting she should leave the race.

But Bachmann did not address the future of her campaign in her remarks to supporters or even hint that she’s reconsidering her campaign.

“There are many more chapters to be written on the path to our party’s nomination,” she told supporters, quipping there “may be even another Michele in the White House” next year.

Local reports estimated 123,000 Republicans turned out this year, slightly more than the 2008 GOP caucus turnout levels.