(This post was retopped with the latest news at 11:04 a.m.)
With the South Carolina primary just two days away, Mitt Romney woke up to some troubling news on Thursday: The Iowa Republican Party revisited his Jan. 3 victory in the caucuses.
Party officials announced that a final certification of the votes actually put Rick Santorum ahead by 34 votes. Because some of the results from eight precincts are missing, the Iowa GOP declared the outcome a split decision.
Santorum was quick to declare victory, tweeting: "Thank you Iowa for the win! I encourage everyone to join our fight in South Carolina! Game on!"
Romney, in a statement, praised Santorum's strong performance but declared the outcome "a virtual tie."
The announcement may do little to help the fortunes of Santorum, who never seemed to capitalize on his strong Iowa showing and is now battling for third or fourth place in South Carolina.
But it could have big implications for Romney. The Iowa "tie" does nothing to burnish the mantle of inevitability that Romney was counting on heading into this weekend's vote. It also means the media won't be able to declare him a rarity among GOP candidates: a front-runner who swept the first three nominating contests. (At least not without adding a big asterisk.) And that won't help his quest to wrap up the GOP nomination as quickly as possible.
Thursday morning, Romney also had to contend with new polls like this one from Politico that suggest Newt Gingrich is gaining ground on him in South Carolina. While Romney still leads Gingrich, 37 percent to 30 percent, Politico says Gingrich "has momentum." As James Hohmann reports:
"When voters are asked to volunteer the name of the candidate they plan to vote for without being prompted by a list of names to choose from, Romney's lead over Gingrich slips to 31 percent to 29 percent. Among those who say they will 'definitely' support their candidate of choice, the two are essentially tied, with Romney at 23 percent and Gingrich at 22 percent."
Of course, Gingrich could face some bad news of his own. ABC News was reportedly set to air an interview with his second wife, Marianne Gingrich, on Nightline Thursday night. While ABC has not released details of the interview, an ABC spokesman told the AP that the network planned to release excerpts during the day Thursday, ahead of the evening's GOP debate.
In something of a pre-buttal, the Gingrich campaign released a statement from Gingrich's two daughters from his first marriage, suggesting that Marianne may have "differing memories of events." Whatever the second Mrs. Gingrich says, it's unlikely to boost her ex-husband's fortunes in conservative South Carolina this weekend.