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Political Notebook

Iowa gives Santorum lead but says winner is unclear

WASHINGTON - It took Iowa Republicans 16 days to decide they couldn’t tell for sure who won the Iowa caucuses, despite their earlier announcement that Mitt Romney had narrowly won. The nonconclusion highlights the potential pitfalls with party-run presidential nominating events.

The final, certified results announced yesterday in Des Moines by Iowa Republican chairman Matt Strawn had Rick Santorum 34 votes ahead of Mitt Romney. But Strawn said the party cannot declare a winner because the results are incomplete - eight of the state’s 1,774 precincts did not report their certified totals by Wednesday’s 5 p.m. deadline.

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Strawn had announced hours after the Jan. 3 caucuses concluded that Romney had won by eight votes. Most news organizations relied on that party announcement, since the results were not officially collected by the state, while waiting final party certification of the vote.

“This is almost an entirely volunteer, grass-roots driven process,’’ Strawn said. He congratulated Santorum and Romney “on a hard-fought effort during the closest contest in caucus history.’’

Presidential nominating events for both Republicans and Democrats are a mix of party-run caucuses and primaries - like those held in Iowa and South Carolina - and officially sanctioned state primaries - like those in New Hampshire and Florida.

The main difference is that with state-run events, you always get a winner, even if it takes multiple recounts and court battles. Local election officials are required by law to meet certification deadlines, and if a race is really close, the law spells out the recount rules that ultimately determine how the winner is decided.

Twenty states have mandatory recount laws for state elections, if the final difference between the top two candidates falls within a certain margin.

For the Iowa caucuses, however, state party officials had a certification form and a deadline, but no recount procedure.

Rick Grote, a member of the Franklin County GOP central committee, was site chairman for seven precincts that met at a high school in Hampton, including one of the missing eight. He said the chairman of that precinct apparently failed to send the form certifying the vote count to the state party.

Lee County GOP chairman Don Lucas, who had four of the noncertified precincts in his county, said he believes supporters of a candidate - he is not sure which - took the certification form to report to the candidate how the candidate did and never brought it back.

Common Cause president Bob Edgar said if Iowa wants to retain its status as the nation’s first presidential nominating event, both parties need to clean up their vote-counting acts.

“Given the millions of dollars the candidates invest in Iowa and the importance the state has assumed in choosing nominees, Republican and Democratic leaders alike owe it to Iowans and the nation to run a transparent process and provide a careful, accurate count,’’ Edgar said.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Obama to ease travel rules for some foreign tourists

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - President Obama planted his political flag in Florida yesterday ahead of the state’s Jan. 31 Republican presidential primary, promising a fresh boost to the economy by making it easier for foreign tourists to travel to the United States.

Obama sought his piece of Florida’s political spotlight with a high-profile appearance at Walt Disney World, where he announced initiatives aimed at making it easier for citizens of China and Brazil to visit the United States.

“America is open for business,’’ Obama declared against the backdrop of Disney’s Cinderella castle and picture-perfect blue skies. “We want to welcome you.’’

From Florida, Obama headed to New York City for four campaign fund-raisers, including an event at the famed Apollo Theater featuring performances by Al Green and India Arie.

The president also was to attend a $35,800 per ticket fund-raiser at the home of director Spike Lee, and two small fund-raisers at Daniel, an exclusive Manhattan restaurant.

Beyond offering an opportunity to talk about the economy, Obama’s trip to Florida marked an attempt by the White House and his campaign to steal attention from Republicans vying for the GOP presidential nomination. In recent weeks Obama held a live video conference with Iowa voters during the Republican caucus; Vice President Joe Biden held a similar event with voters in New Hampshire on the night of the state’s first-in-the-nation primary.

Obama was greeted in the Orlando area by ads from GOP front-runner Mitt Romney blaming the president for the state’s struggling economy. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, could take a major step toward securing the Republican nomination with a win in Florida’s primary.

While Obama carried Florida in 2008, the state is a top target for Republicans in the November elections. Florida twice backed Republican George W. Bush, providing the decisive electoral votes in the cliffhanger 2000 election that was decided after a 36-day recount.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

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