Perry Leaves Race, Iowa GOP Puts Santorum In Lead

Guest

Don Gonyea, national political correspondent, NPR

Texas Gov. Rick Perry dropped out of the Republican presidential race Thursday, saying he saw no way forward. The same day, the Iowa Republican party announced that Mitt Romney is no longer the winner of the caucuses there.

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JOHN DONVAN, HOST:

It's two days before the GOP primary in South Carolina, and already the numbers in the race have shifted again. Texas Governor Rick Perry dropped out this morning. While in Iowa, the Republican Party announced that Mitt Romney cannot claim after all that he won the caucuses there; Rick Santorum leads at last count. But the truth is we may never know who won in Iowa. NPR political correspondent Don Gonyea is on the road in South Carolina and joins us now by phone. And, Don, where precisely are you right now?

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: I'm somewhere in Columbia, in the downtown area. I started out this morning in Greenville, where I attended an anti-abortion forum last night that four of the candidates joined in on - among them, Rick Perry. Mitt Romney was not there. I'm on my way to Charleston, where the debate is this evening.

DONVAN: So seeing Rick Perry last night in person, did you have a sense that this was coming, his dropping out was coming?

GONYEA: We had heard rumblings, oh, about the last 24, 36 hours now or so that one option that was on the table was dropping out ahead of the Saturday vote. All polling indicated that he was going to come in the single digits, perhaps low single digits, kind of an embarrassing way to go out for a guy who was once a frontrunner. So we were hearing that it made some sense for him to drop out and endorse and maybe have just a little bit of juice...

DONVAN: No.

GONYEA: ...a little bit of an effect.

DONVAN: So you mean he wanted to spare himself the indignity of a bad finish?

GONYEA: Yeah. And actually determine kind of the terms of his exit and to have everybody care about what he says as he leaves, and that's what endorsing Newt Gingrich does for him. I'll tell you last night he seemed very relaxed, more relaxed, I think, than I've ever seen him. In retrospect, you know, I've learned that he had made up his mind by then, so that would explain why he was so casual and relaxed.

DONVAN: Right.

GONYEA: But that - we didn't really sense it.

DONVAN: The pressure was off. And what does it do for Gingrich, his endorsement?

GONYEA: Well, you know, what it does it's not like Rick Perry had a lot of votes to give to Gingrich. If he's polling at, you know, 4 or 5 percent, first, you can't say all of them are going to go to Gingrich, but let's say, you know, a lot of them do, it might give Gingrich a bump of a point or two or maybe a little bit more. But what it does for him is it helps to create a sense of Gingrich being the guy who's consolidating support, especially in this state, to emerge and the challenger to Mitt Romney.

DONVAN: Let's turn for a moment to Iowa.

GONYEA: Rick Santorum would also like to make that claim, but Gingrich seems to be doing that in South Carolina.

DONVAN: OK. Because you mentioned Santorum, I wanted to skip back to Iowa with the primary more than two weeks ago, but now, we find out that it was not Romney's win. That it was actually Santorum's, although we may never really know who won because they're - it's being called a statistical tie. But what happened there?

GONYEA: Right. When the votes were counted caucus night - and I think it was three in the morning before we knew the result - there were eight votes separating Romney in first place, Santorum in second place. It was called essentially a tie, but Romney was declared the winner, and he's been going to New Hampshire and South Carolina since saying I'm the first guy in Republican history to win those two. And he kind of used it to create this aura of inevitability about himself.

So now, we find out Santorum won because when they did a re-canvas, which is part of the normal process - it's not a recount. It's just that there's always a two-week period before they certify the vote. Everybody knew that there was a potential for some votes to (technical difficulty) for the tally to come in (technical difficulty) sure enough, Santorum 34 points. But the reason it's - 34 votes ahead - the reason is still in doubt is because, remember, these are paper ballots...

DONVAN: Yeah. It's the old-fashioned way. Don, I have to cut you off to go to a break, but I want to thank NPR's Don Gonyea traveling in South Carolina. Thanks for joining us.

GONYEA: All right. Thank you.

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