Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney hugs his wife Ann
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney hugs his wife Ann (Reuters)

Republican Party officials said former governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney beat Rick Santorum, former senator of Pennsylvania, in the Iowa caucuses by just eight votes.

The two candidates were in a dead heat for most of Tuesday night until the Iowa Republican Party declared Romney the winner. According to the Associated Press, both candidates had a 25 percent share of the ballots, with Romney securing 30,015 votes and Santorum 30,007. There were about 122,000 votes cast in the race.

Representative Ron Paul placed a strong third with 21 percent, while former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was riding high in the polls less than a month ago, ended fourth with 13 percent.

Texas governor Rick Perry scored 10 percent and congresswoman Michele Bachmann attracted 5 percent. Perry announced he was returning to Texas to reassess his presidential bid.

"With the voters' decision tonight in Iowa, I have decided to return to Texas to assess the results of tonight's caucus and determine whether there's a path forward in this race," he told supporters. "With a little prayer and reflection I'm going to choose the best path forward."

In an email to supporters, Santorum wrote: "We shocked the world last night in Iowa. We did it with a coalition of conservatives, Tea Party members and values voters who recognised that my successful conservative record gives the GOP the best chance to defeat Barack Obama."