DES MOINES, Iowa — Texas Gov. Rick Perry is reassessing whether to continue his presidential campaign after sustaining the first defeat in a 27-year political career Tuesday night.
He finished a disappointing fifth in the Iowa caucuses, falling short in his bid for a momentum-building resurgence in the opening contest of the 2012 presidential race.
Rather than moving on to South Carolina today as scheduled, Perry told supporters at his headquarters hotel that he would return to Texas to assess the results of the caucuses and determine "whether there is a path forward for myself in this race."
With more than 93 percent of the caucus results reported, Perry had 10 percent of the vote.
Perry had vowed to remain in the race anyway, portraying himself as a long-distance runner beginning a campaign marathon.
Regardless, numerous analysts declared that the caucus results would seriously impair his ability to raise money and force him to end his candidacy.
With Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul leading the field in many pre-caucus polls, Perry was hoping for third place to re-energize his struggling bid. He led the field shortly after entering the race in mid-August but plunged in the polls after poor debate performances and other miscues.
Perry's post-Iowa strategy had focused heavily on South Carolina, the first Southern primary, where he hoped to use his stature as a Southern governor and his strong ties to evangelical voters to rebound into contention.
"The idea that one or two states is going to decide who the next nominee for the Republican Party is just, you know, that's not reality," Perry told CNN before the caucuses. He said he believed that the GOP race would ultimately become a fight between him and Romney.
The governor had planned to leave Iowa this afternoon for Aiken, S.C. His other planned South Carolina stops included North Augusta, Lexington and Orangeburg.
More debates ahead
Sullivan said Perry had planned to be in New Hampshire for debates Saturday and Sunday but acknowledged that the Granite State is a Romney stronghold.
With his rugged looks, an unblemished record of nine election victories and more than a decade of executive experience as Texas' longest-serving governor, Perry seemed destined for a strong performance when he entered the race after weeks of consideration. He quickly surpassed Romney to take the lead, stirring talk that he was on the march toward the nomination.
But a lackluster performance in early debates -- including his "oops" moment, in which he forgot the name of one of three agencies he wants to eliminate -- contributed to a prolonged slide in the polls.
Perry recovered in later debates and seemed to regain his political footing in a 44-city bus tour, in which he delivered impassioned appeals for Iowans to get behind his candidacy.
Chip Felkel, a Republican analyst in South Carolina who is not aligned with a campaign, said Perry has "dug a pretty deep hole for himself" there because of his "considerable missteps" and would have trouble recovering regardless of his performance in Iowa.
Analysts said Perry may have been hurt by his early status as front-runner, making him a target for attacks from his rivals that contributed to his slide. Perry also failed to attract a coveted endorsement from South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who threw her support to Romney.
But Perry put together other influential endorsements, including that of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who was consistently at Perry's side during the final hours of the Iowa campaign.
Perry also blanketed the state with TV ads -- the most of any candidate -- and brought in a "strike force" of more than 500 volunteers from 30 states, mostly from Texas, to fan out across the caucuses.
Top Texas officials and nearly 15 Republicans from the Legislature also worked on Perry's behalf. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Comptroller Susan Combs were present at Perry's events Tuesday and were assigned to attend key caucuses to court support.
As he made a final round of appearances Tuesday, Perry urged potential caucusgoers to join him in his mission "to take America" back from Washington insiders and out-of control spending.
In an appearance before employees at the Principal Financial Group, one of Des Moines' biggest employers, he won at least one convert by promising that he wouldn't regulate or tax Internet use if he becomes president.
Travis Rosa, an analyst at the international firm, said at the outset of the event that he was undecided on a candidate. But after Perry answered his question about the Internet, he said he would "probably" support Perry.
Steve Waage and his wife, Carol, who chatted with Perry just before a caucus at a church in the Des Moines suburb of Waukee, said they liked his conservative credentials but were still unsure whom they would support.
"We're kind of torn," said Waage, a retired John Deere employee, explaining that the overriding attribute they want in a candidate is the ability to beat President Barack Obama.
Robert Haus, Perry's Iowa co-chairman, said the campaign planned to have a presence at nearly all of the 1,700-plus caucuses. Supporters, many of them wearing white Perry T-shirts, made speeches to tout his candidacy and worked the crowds beforehand.
Volunteers contacted over 50,000 Iowans, including 10,000 on Monday, and knocked on at least 1,000 doors, Haus said.
"We've got a good runner with strong legs, and he's going to go the distance in this marathon," Haus said.
The governor started the day with a rousing show of support from fellow Texans at a strike force training session at his headquarters hotel, the West Des Moines Sheraton.
"We've got the A-Team in here," Perry declared.
"I never dreamed we'd be standing before you today in an effort to save our country," said his wife, Anita Perry. "I can hardly stand it when I see all of you without crying. My children told me not to do that."
The supporters cheered repeatedly, at times offering standing ovations, as Perry unleashed an impassioned recital of his central campaign themes.
"On to victory," Perry said in concluding his address.
Perry repeated his oft-stated vow to "make Washington as inconsequential in your lives as we can."
McClatchy Newspapers 2012