Romney takes Iowa poll by just eight votes
Mitt Romney has won the first round in the battle to challenge Barack Obama for the White House -- but only just.
Romney won the Iowa caucus by just eight votes.
The former governor of Massachusetts narrowly edged out former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum by 30,015 votes to 30,007.
Romney, the longtime front-runner, and Santorum, whose campaign only recently gained momentum, each had about 25pc of the vote with 99pc of the state's 1,774 precincts reporting.
Texas congressman Ron Paul was running a close third in the caucuses -- evening meetings held at 809 locations across the midwestern state yesterday.
Iowa, with its core of evangelical voters, was not considered a natural stronghold for Romney, the former governor of the liberal state of Massachusetts.
He clearly remains the candidate to beat for the party's nomination going into next Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, where he is the clear favourite.
"On to New Hampshire!" Romney told supporters shortly before midnight as he prepared to leave Iowa. "We've got some work ahead."
Still, Iowa also reflects Romney's inability to build support beyond the 25pc level he has held for months in national polls -- even though he is generally considered the most formidable challenger to Obama in the seven-candidate field.
But the results also show no obvious alternative to Romney. Despite their strong performances on Tuesday, Santorum and Paul remain longshots.
Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator who for months languished at the bottom of Republican polls, may be hard-pressed to repeat his Iowa performance, where his solid conservative stances on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage resonated with Republican voters.
It's not clear whether the message will work as well in states where the economy is a bigger issue or if he can come up with the funds or organisation to sustain a national campaign.
Also, he has yet to face the intense scrutiny that has caused other conservative challengers to Romney to wither as soon as they climbed to the top of polls.