Mitt Romney appears with his wife, Ann, at his primary night rally in Columbia,… (Joe Raedle/Getty Images )
For Mitt Romney, a dubious distinction: Only one state voted Saturday, but in a 24-hour span he managed to lose two elections.
The Iowa Republican Party, after saying just days ago that the Jan. 3 caucuses were inconclusive, issued a statement overnight declaring that Rick Santorum had, indeed, won.
Romney had initially held an eight-vote lead, but certified totals released Thursday put Santorum ahead by nearly three dozen votes.
Then, within moments of the polls closing Saturday night in South Carolina, Newt Gingrich became the third Republican in three nominating contests to claim victory. With more than three-quarters of the vote counted, he was 14 percentage points ahead of Romney.
It's been quite a turnabout for Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, who just days ago seemed poised to wrap up the nominating race. Before the Iowa result flipped, he claimed a historic feat for a Republican, becoming the only nonincumbent president to triumph both there and in New Hampshire.
And since 1980, the winner of South Carolina's Republican primary has gone on to win his party's nomination. Romney led in most polls, until Gingrich's debate performances quickly changed the dynamic.
Now, the split results give even greater significance to Florida's Jan. 31 primary.
"Three days ago, there was an inevitability in this race. Mitt Romney was 2-0, and it was soon to be 3-0," Santorum said Saturday night in an interview with CNN. But then, "I took Iowa, Newt took South Carolina, and it's game on again."
Romney, for his part, emphasized that the race was still a long way from over.