Perry poised to drop out of presidential race

Posted Wednesday, Jan. 04, 2012  comments  Print Reprints
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DES MOINES, Iowa -- After finishing a disappointing fifth in Iowa, Texas Gov. Rick Perry says he will return home to consider whether to continue his once-strong presidential campaign.

He had been scheduled to travel to South Carolina today.

"With the voters' decision tonight in Iowa, I decided to return to Texas, assess the results of tonight's caucus, determine whether there is a path forward for myself in this race," Perry told supporters in Iowa, his family standing behind him.

"With a little prayer and reflection, I'm going to decide the best past forward," he said. "But I want to tell you, there's been no greater joy in my life than to be able to share with the people of Iowa and this country that there is a model to take this country forward and it is in the great state of Texas."

It was a dramatic finish to a dramatic vote in which Iowa Republicans had the first say of the 2012 presidential campaign Tuesday, kicking off a contentious battle to pick a champion to challenge Democratic President Barack Obama in the fall.

The Iowans crowded into firehouses and church basements in caucus meetings on a cold, clear evening, a quadrennial showcase of democracy that often winnows the field of candidates while sending top finishers off to the rest of the country. Party officials expected a record turnout, eclipsing the 118,000 who showed up in 2008. This edition went to press before results were known.

With more than 90 percent of the vote counted late Tuesday, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney were neck-and-neck at 25 percent, with Santorum ahead by about 100 votes. Texas Congressman Ron Paul of Lake Jackson was running third at 21 percent.

Trailing in the second tier were former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 13 percent, Perry at 10 percent and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota at 5 percent. Her campaign appeared on life support, perhaps the first casualty of the voting.

The results were disappointing for Perry, who had never lost an election before tonight.

The campaign races next to the East Coast for a rapid-fire series of contests that might be called the "Interstate 95 primary," with primary elections in New Hampshire on Jan. 10, then South Carolina, and in Florida on Jan. 31.

Romney dominates in New Hampshire polls, so much so that anything less than a landslide win by him there could be seen as a setback.

New Hampshire is more liberal than Iowa, much less interested in social issues than Iowa, and much more challenging to social conservatives. It's also very familiar with Romney, who has a summer home there and governed next door. He leads by a better than 2-to-1 margin over Paul and nearly 3-to-1 over Gingrich.

Gingrich and Paul both will challenge Romney on his home turf. Gingrich arrives in New Hampshire on Wednesday morning and vows to hammer Romney as a closet liberal.

After watching his lead in Iowa crushed by a torrent of negative ads from Romney and an independent pro-Romney group -- as well as other rivals and news media commentators -- Gingrich is vowing to hit back hard.

Tuesday morning he called Romney a liar for his anti-Gingrich ads. "He doesn't tell the truth," Gingrich said.

A Gingrich ad in Wednesday morning's New Hampshire Union Leader will blast Romney as a "Timid Massachusetts Moderate."

Santorum also heads to New Hampshire on Wednesday, eager to prove that his late surge into the top tier in Iowa was not an isolated event, thanks to his long campaigning there. He visited all 99 Iowa counties.

He also aims to prove he has broader appeal beyond the Christian conservatives in Iowa who helped propel him toward the top. Mike Huckabee did the same thing after winning Iowa four years ago -- but finished a distant third in New Hampshire to moderates John McCain and Romney and never recovered.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman also is waiting in New Hampshire after skipping Iowa. "Welcome to New Hampshire. Nobody cares," he said of the Iowa vote during a town hall meeting in New Hampshire on Tuesday.

"It's a long road," Romney said Tuesday before the caucuses. "I'll have a target painted on me, and so I expect other folks to come after me. ... And, you know, if I can't stand up to that, I shouldn't be the nominee."

South Carolina, though, could become the pivotal battleground, the next place where all the candidates compete.

Deeply conservative, the state is the first test in the Republican South and a strong measure of success with the party base. Since 1980, every winner of the South Carolina primary has gone on to win the Republican nomination.

Bachmann and Perry will largely skip New Hampshire -- except for nationally televised debates there on Saturday and Sunday -- and head to South Carolina for what they hope will crown one candidate as the conservative alternative to Romney.

"The idea that one or two states is going to decide who the next nominee for the Republican Party is is just, you know, that's not reality," Perry said on CNN Tuesday.

However, Romney aides say privately that they want a large field of conservatives dividing up the South Carolina vote and allowing him to win.

And Romney's not conceding the state even this week leading to New Hampshire's vote Tuesday. He dashes to South Carolina late Thursday for a few events before heading back to New Hampshire on Friday.

Romney also announced Tuesday his first TV ad in Florida, a sign that he's looking past immediate contests. Aides have long noted that he is the one candidate who can wage a coast-to-coast campaign with his war chest and deep organization.

This report contains material from The Associated Press.

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