Oops! Turns out Rick Santorum beat Mitt Romney in Iowa. Does it matter?

A new vote tally shows Rick Santorum won the Iowa caucuses by 34 votes over runner-up Mitt Romney. But aside from bragging rights, the shift in results is unlikely to affect the GOP race.

By , Staff writer

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    Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum speaks during a Values Voter rally at Mount Pleasant Memorial Park in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina Thursday January 19, 2012.
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There are times when a few votes can make an enormous difference in a political race. Just ask Al Gore, who won the national popular vote in 2000 but likely lost the presidency over the Florida recount involving a tiny number of paper ballots. Hanging chads, anybody?

Such is not the case with the rejiggered results of the Iowa caucuses, except perhaps for bragging rights as the remaining Republican hopefuls prepare for Thursday night's debate in South Carolina.

Rick Santorum now can say he “won” Iowa. Mitt Romney can no longer claim to be the first non-incumbent Republican to have notched back-to-back victories in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Recommended: 'The Real Romney': 10 facts about the presidential hopeful

For the record, here are the numbers – with one big caveat involving missing results from eight precincts.

Initially declared the winner by just eight votes out of more than 120,000 total, Romney now winds up 34 votes behind Santorum, according to party officials in Iowa.

But as Jennifer Jacobs, chief politics writer for the Des Moines Register, writes: “There are too many holes in the certified totals from the Iowa caucuses to know for certain who won.”

Results from eight precincts are missing – any of which could hold an advantage for Romney – and will never be recovered and certified, Republican Party of Iowa officials told Iowa’s leading newspaper.

GOP officials discovered inaccuracies in 131 precincts, although not all the changes affected the two leaders,” Ms. Jacobs writes. “Changes in one precinct alone shifted the vote by 50 – a margin greater than the certified tally.”

The certified numbers: 29,839 for Santorum and 29,805 for Romney. Ron Paul got 26,036 votes; Newt Gingrich 16,163; Rick Perry 12,557; Michele Bachmann 6,046; and Jon Huntsman 739.

“In the near term, the results are a shot of encouragement for Santorum, as well as the other anti-Romney candidates, who no longer have to contend with the idea that Romney won an unprecedented one-two victory in Iowa and New Hampshire,” writes Alexander Burns at Politico.com. “If Newt Gingrich were to win South Carolina, the early-state scoreboard would suddenly look rather different than it did at the start of the week.”

But just as important, Mr. Burns writes, “The botched vote count is a real embarrassment for Iowa and its caucus process, which lured candidates to devote weeks and months of their time to the state and spend an awful lot of money there. What did they get in exchange?”

The other thing about Iowa is, it’s so two weeks ago.

Think of what’s happened since then. The New Hampshire primary. Four debates. Three candidates dropping out (Bachmann, Huntsman, and Perry). New questions about Romney’s wealth and the tax rate he enjoys. Gingrich’s second wife going public with her version of an affair with the congressional staffer who became his third wife. Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart satirizing the whole business.

In any case, the results in Iowa might more accurately be called a “split decision.”

“I think people realize it’s a tie,” former Iowa Republican Chairman Richard Schwarm told the Associated Press. Besides, he adds, “It’s a straw poll that has no impact on how we pick delegates.”

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