Bachmann Off, Perry On The Republican Rollercoaster

The rough-and-tumble Republican race for the White House became even more entangled on Wednesday when Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann quit and Rick Perry decided to stay in after all.

Bachmann stepped down after a dismal sixth place finish in the Iowa caucuses, which were decided by a difference of only 8 votes out of the 122,000 that were cast.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney won Iowa by the tightest of margins over social conservative Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator who had been all but ignored until his poll numbers began to rise a week ago.

As Romney arrived in New Hampshire, where he has a solid campaign infrastructure and is heavily favored to win the state's primary on January 10, he picked up the endorsement of Senator John McCain, who was the party's nominee in 2008.

Throwing political pundits into confusion, Perry announced he is staying in the race for now, and would campaign in New Hampshire and South Carolina, after saying he would reassess his campaign because of a disappointing fifth-place Iowa performance.

The unsettled race for the nomination to oppose Obama in November - which pollster Gallup said was the most topsy-turvy in 50 years - leaves an opening for former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich or Perry to get back to the top if Romney can't connect with more voters.

Both have southern connections - Perry is governor of Texas and Gingrich was a congressman from Georgia - and primaries in two southern states, South Carolina and Florida, are coming up on January 21 and January 31.

Perry, a steady leader in the money stakes, has $3-4 million on hand to fund a multi-state campaign, according to a knowledgeable source, and polls put him more likely than Bachmann to draw social conservatives' support from Santorum.

Gingrich can hope more strong debate performances like those that helped push him into the top tier of candidates in November. There are two more Republican debates in the next week.

"Mitt Romney obviously has a stranglehold on establishment Republicans, but if Mitt wants to wrap this nomination up he has to get beyond establishment Republicans," said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell.

Read more from Eric Johnson and Michelle Nichols at Reuters

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published this page in In The News 2012-01-04 19:00:00 -0500
Analysis & Political Strategy