Back in September, Rick Perry was the betting favourite to win both the Iowa caucus and the Republican nomination. Instead, he scored just 10 per cent of the vote last night, leaving him down in fifth place. This disappointing result may well be the final nail in the coffin of Perry's campaign, and last night he certainly sounded like a candidate at the end of the line:
'With the voters' decision tonight in Iowa, I've decided to return to Texas, assess the results of tonight's caucus, determine whether there is a path forward for myself in this race... With a little prayer and a little reflection, I'm going to decide the best path forward.'
Michele Bachmann also had a disastrous night, finishing last of the six candidates contesting Iowa. Bachmann says she'll carry on, but in reality her hopes were pinned on a strong showing in Iowa and she fell well short. Expect her to stay in for the next few debates but drop out after the South Carolina primary on 21 January.
If and when these candidates drop out, it'll help Santorum as the new 'Anyone but Romney' candidate. But he's on just 6 per cent in the national polls and currently lacks the money and organisation to mount a serious challenge to Romney. He will get a bump from these results, and can expect to pick up many of Bachmann, Perry and Gingrich's supporters, but it's unlikely to be enough for him to keep up with Romney through the early primaries. And, as James says, he'll now be subject to the same level of scrutiny that burst the Cain and Gingrich bubbles.
Incredibly, Romney now looks like the presumptive nominee despite having the support of just one-in-four Republicans. He already looks certain to win the New Hampshire primary next week, and is set to receive an extra boost today in the form of an endorsement from 2008 nominee John McCain.
Update: It seems Michele Bachmann might not make it to South Carolina after all. She's called a press conference for this afternoon, and the National Journal quotes a source saying that she 'doesn’t see a way forward in her campaign for the GOP nomination for president'.