Politics Wrap-Up: Perry, Santorum, Gingrich's Ex-Wife

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A big day in presidential politics: Texas Gov. Rick Perry dropped out of the race. Certified results from the Iowa caucuses show former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum finished ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, but party officials are calling it a tie. And Newt Gingrich's second wife sat down with ABC News for an interview about their marriage and messy divorce. All this comes on the same day the four remaining candidates gather in Charleston, S.C. for a debate. Robert Siegel discusses it all with NPR's Mara Liasson in Charleston.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

I'm Robert Siegel. And we begin this hour with some head-spinning events on the Republican campaign trail. For one, Texas Governor Rick Perry dropped out of the race. And today also brought a new result from the Iowa caucuses, and a possible bombshell for the Gingrich campaign.

Joining us from South Carolina, where Republicans will vote in Saturday's primary, is NPR's Mara Liasson. And Mara, there are now only four candidates. They'll meet to debate tonight, in Charleston. Will Rick Perry's departure, and his endorsement of New Gingrich today, make much of a difference?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Well, it will if it is the beginning of the long-awaited consolidation of the conservative vote, if Newt Gingrich can turn this - finally - into a two-man race, him against Mitt Romney. But he still has to get past Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, who are not getting out of the race. Gingrich has been enjoying a surge in the polls, especially after his performance in the debates, and the Romney campaign is clearly worried about this.

They've rolled out new attacks ads against Gingrich. They've had some of their biggest surrogates, Jim Talent and John Sununu, holding conference calls about Newt's chaotic, unreliable leadership. And Romney himself departed from his habit, and actually mentioned Gingrich by name personally - today and yesterday - on the stump.

SIEGEL: But despite this surge for Gingrich in the polls, there is this possible bombshell for the Gingrich campaign, which comes in the form of former Mrs. Gingrich, Marianne Gingrich - wife number two - who is featured in a piece tonight on ABC's "Nightline." What else do we know about that piece?

LIASSON: Right. Marianne Gingrich, who was married to Newt while he had his affair with Callista, who is now his third wife, gave an interview to ABC where she talked about her marriage. And here is a little bit of what she said:

MARIANNE GINGRICH: I said to him, Newt, we've been married a long time. And he said yes, but you want me all to yourself. Callista doesn't care what I do.

BRIAN ROSS: What was he saying to you, do you think?

GINGRICH: He - oh, he was asking to have an open marriage, and I refused.

LIASSON: The question is, is this kind of thing already factored into Newt Gingrich's stock price? I mean, this - it's widely known that he was unfaithful. His whole campaign is based on redemption and a second chance. He said he's asked God for forgiveness. Now, he's a Catholic. He's happily married. He's a grandfather. So we'll see if this does any damage to Newt Gingrich or not.

SIEGEL: Let's move on to Rick Santorum. He's been stuck in third place in the South Carolina polls, but he got this strange boost today in the form of news from Iowa. Tell us about what happened.

LIASSON: Iowa officials have released the final tally from the caucuses and lo and behold, Rick Santorum is actually 34 votes ahead of Mitt Romney instead of eight votes behind. Now, Iowa officials say there are still eight precincts where they can't find the ballots, so they'll never know the exact number. The question is, now that Rick Santorum can say he won - or got more votes than Romney - is it too late? Is it too little? He hasn't been able to get traction here in South Carolina, despite the endorsement of some prominent evangelicals.

SIEGEL: So where does all this leave Mitt Romney, Mara? He was - just a day ago, before we learned about Iowa - seemed to be cruising toward an unprecedented, third-in-a-row victory, and had an unimpeded path to the nomination. Not so clear today.

LIASSON: Not so clear. It would be bad for Romney if Newt Gingrich can pull off an upset in South Carolina. Not because Newt can beat Romney for the nomination - Romney is still very well-positioned; he has lots of money for Florida and beyond - but because South Carolina is a red state. This is the first Republican state that's voting. And if Romney can't win in a red state, there will be questions raised about his hold on the base of his party.

Now, on the other hand, if he can win, even Newt Gingrich says the race will be over if Romney wins South Carolina. So the stakes are very high here.

SIEGEL: Finally, tonight is the last debate before the South Carolina primary. You're going to be there. What do you expect?

LIASSON: I expect lots of questions about Mitt Romney's business practices and taxes. We've learned since the last debate that he has bank accounts in the Cayman Islands. He pays a 15 percent tax rate. He said that he made $375,000 in speaking fees, which he described as not very much. The question is why Romney hasn't had a better answer for all of these things, which his campaign certainly could have anticipated. He's been the model of preparation and discipline, except for in this area.

Even Chris Christie, one of his most prominent supporters, is telling him: Release your tax returns; that's what I would do. That's not the kind of headline Romney wants, and he certainly will be asked about these things tonight.

SIEGEL: OK. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's Mara Liasson in Charleston, South Carolina.

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