(Reuters) – After his razor-thin victory in Iowa, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney on Wednesday predicted “fast and furious” attacks from rivals seeking to oust him from his front-runner perch in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Romney edged out Rick Santorum, a conservative former Pennsylvania senator, by only eight votes in Iowa’s caucuses, the first presidential nominating contest of 2012, as each received about 25 percent of the vote.
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Ron Paul, a Texas congressman known for his small-government views, was a close third with just over 21 percent.
The field of candidates seemed likely to narrow after the Iowa result after two of the seven leading contenders cancelled trips to South Carolina to reassess their campaigns.
Representative Michele Bachmann, who finished a disappointing sixth in Iowa with just 5 percent of the vote, canceled events in the southern state and scheduled a news conference for 11 a.m. EST.
Bachmann, a strong social and fiscal conservative, had focused her campaigning in Iowa after winning the Ames Straw poll there in August.
Texas Governor Rick Perry, who finished fifth in Iowa with just over 10 percent support, said he was going home to Texas to reassess his campaign.
New Hampshire holds its primary on January 7. South Carolina’s is set for January 21, followed by Florida on January 31.
The Iowa result boosted Romney’s status as the person to beat in the race to pick a challenger to President Barack Obama in November’s election.
He had not been expected to do well in the midwestern state, where conservative Christian voters are a major influence on Republican politics. But Romney’s eight-vote win over Santorum underscored his inability to secure the trust of socially and fiscally conservative Republicans ahead of what is likely to be the most expensive presidential election campaign in history.
Newt Gingrich, a former front-runner who finished in fourth place in Iowa at about 13 percent, signaled that he would campaign more aggressively against Romney, whom he has linked to a series of bruising TV attack ads.
“I know the attacks are going to come and they’re going to become more fast and furious now,” Romney said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Wednesday, after eking out his 30,015 to 30,007 win over Santorum.