Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has won the first contest to pick the Republican challenger to run against U.S. President Barack Obama in November -- but by an extremely narrow margin.
Romney beat former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum by a mere eight votes in the Iowa caucuses.
Romney's slim margin of victory came out of a total of 122,255 votes cast on January 3.
Romney won 25 percent of the vote, or 30,015 votes. Santorum also got 25 percent support, with 30,007 votes.
Romney, speaking in Iowa on January 2, promised if elected to "get America working again," a reference to the country's weakened economy.
Thousands of people had gathered in churches, schools, and other public buildings -- in so-called caucuses -- to vote from among seven candidates.
Ron Paul, a congressman from Texas with libertarian views, finished third with about 21 percent of the vote. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was fourth with 13 percent.
Texas Governor Rick Perry indicated his presidential bid may be over after a disappointing fifth-place finish with 10 percent. Michele Bachmann, the U.S. congresswoman backed by the conservative Tea Party movement, was sixth with 5 percent. Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman finished last with 1 percent.
On January 4, Bachmann left the Republican presidential race, saying she had decided to "stand aside" after her sixth-place finish in Iowa.
Accounting for only 28 delegates, Iowa only makes up a tiny fraction of the 1,143 delegates needed to secure the Republican presidential nomination.
However, analysts say a good showing in Iowa gives the winner momentum going forward.
Opinion polls suggest Romney has a commanding lead in the next state contest, in New Hampshire on January 10. He also has the resources and campaign infrastructure to compete in bigger states like Florida and South Carolina later this month.
U.S. television networks report that Arizona Senator John McCain, the party's 2008 nominee, will endorse Romney later on January 4.
Campaigning in all of Iowa's 99 counties, Santorum emphasized his home-schooled children, his opposition to same-sex marriage and his status as an outsider in a bid to win Iowa's large bloc of Christian conservatives.
"I work for you; not the other way around," he said. "You have to hold your representatives accountable and your president accountable. You may like them. They may be nice people, but you need to hold them accountable for what they do and the policies they are putting forward. And that means you have to be involved as citizens."
But political analysts say Santorum could have difficulty in other states.
Iowa is better known for narrowing the field than picking the eventual nominee.
The Iowa caucuses are not a traditional election where people go into a voting booth. Instead, at more than 1,700 gathering places, registered Republicans come together for several hours to discuss candidates and try to persuade others to support their choice.
They vote by writing a candidate's name on a piece of paper. A chairperson at each site counts the votes and calls the results into the party's state headquarters.
with agency reports