Iowa Caucus Near-Tie Energizes Romney, Santorum Supporters

Results estimates show top three GOP presidential candidates, including Ron Paul, each winning seven delegates in crucial first primary.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Everybody loves a winner, but sometimes not losing is the best you can hope for. After finishing in a near dead heat in the crucial first primary in the nation, Tuesday night’s Iowa caucus , supporters of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum were both feeling very good about their candidates’ finishes.

With Romney coming out on top by a grand total of eight votes, his camp couldn’t exactly shout from the rooftops, but, well, a win is a win in the closest race in Iowa caucus history.

After overseeing the caucus meeting at Drake University earlier in the night, student Sam Pritchard said at the Romney results party at the hotel Fort Des Moines late Tuesday that the evening belonged to the longtime GOP presidential front-runner.

“It’s been a good win for Romney … and it’s going to provide him with the momentum he needs to win the rest of these primaries,” Pritchard said of the candidate who had not spent much time in Iowa until a few weeks before the caucus. “If he did this in two weeks, what can he do for the rest of the year? … It’s exhilarating.”

Though CNN reported that the bulk of Romney’s votes came from caucusers 65 and older, Pritchard said that like third-place finisher Ron Paul’s pull with young voters, the former Massachusetts governor could do the same. “If you look at the Ron Paul campaign and why a lot of the youth voters like him, some of it applies to Romney as well,” he said. “He’s a Washington outsider, and he’s coming at it as somebody who wants to reform the system. By appealing to the moderates and independents, he can really capture the youth vote.”

As a college student who is going to need a job when he graduates, Pritchard said he’s counting on Romney’s private-sector experience turning around companies to help him find employment when he leaves college.

Santorum spoke to his faithful at a celebratory gathering well before the final vote tally was announced. Santorum staffer Ryan Rutt, 26, called the night “very exciting.” “Either way, it’s been a huge success,” Rutt said. “One way or the other, definitely a success for the Santorum campaign. Obviously, would love a big win, but this evening has been really exciting for all of us.”

Also reveling in the unexpectedly come-from-nowhere near-win for Santorum was fellow staffer Jonathan Gehman, 29, who said he’s cast his lot with the classic-conservative family-values candidate because of Santorum’s conviction, positive campaigning and emphasis on faith and family.

“This could completely change the climate of the election right now, especially because you look at the top three and you have three very different people,” added Joel Charles, 27, speaking of Santorum, Romney and libertarian third-place finisher Ron Paul .

While MTV News’ PowerOf12.org correspondent Andrew Jenks told the Santorum team that he’d been getting blasted all Tuesday night by his young Twitter followers about the former senator’s hardline stances against abortion and gay marriage, Gehman said he agreed “100 percent” with Santorum on those social issues. “I think there’s a lot of young people in America with the same convictions,” he said. “I don’t think it’s as exciting to speak out that way … but I think there’s a minority that is silent, and if they’d speak up, we would be the majority.”

By Wednesday morning (January 4), CNN estimated that, of the 25 pledged delegates at stake in Iowa, Romney, Santorum and Paul each won seven, further muddling the bragging rights coming out of the nation’s first presidential primary. All three candidates will now turn their attention to New Hampshire, where the fight will start all over again in the headlong rush to next Tuesday’s primary.

MTV is on the scene in Iowa! Head to Iowa.MTV.com for all our Iowa caucus coverage , and stick with PowerOf12.org throughout the presidential election season to follow Andrew Jenks on the campaign trail.

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