[Image: The Republican field narrows in advance of the Jan. 21 South Carolina primary. (Illustration by Aram Vartian.)]
This morning, Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced he was dropping his bid to be the Republican presidential nominee -- throwing his support to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich just three days after former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. dropped his bid and gave his support to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
In announcing his decision, CBS News reports, Perry said, "I have come to the conclusion that there is no viable path forward for me in the 2012 campaign. I know when it's time to make a strategic retreat."
Aside from his notoriously bad debate performances, one of the most noted parts of Perry's campaign was an ad run in Iowa in which the one-time front-runner lambasted President Obama about "gays ... serv[ing] openly in the military" and what he called the president's "war on religion."
Adding to the shake-up that leaves only Romney, Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Rep. Ron Paul in the GOP presidential primary contest, news came out of Iowa today that Santorum -- and not Romney -- had more votes in the state's Jan. 3 caucuses. Although the two still finished within 50 votes of one another and, according to a Washington Post report, the state's Republican Party chair said today that there was no winner because the results were so close, Romney had used his 8-vote victory in Iowa and his win in New Hampshire's Jan. 10 primary to claim the mantle of front-runner in the GOP nomination.
In his campaigning in advance of the conservative South Carolina primary to take place on Saturday, Jan. 21, Romney, according to Think Progress, has added a line to his stump speech criticizing Obama's position that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, saying, "This is a president also who is attempting to pave the way for same-sex marriage in our nation by refusing through his attorney general to defend the Defense of Marriage Act."
According to limited, one-night results released today by Public Policy Polling, Gingrich has potentially overtaken Romney in the state. Although the company stressed that the limited sample means the results have a +/- 5 percent margin of error, the one-night results -- polled before Perry dropped out -- are: "Gingrich 34, Romney 28, Paul 15, Santorum 14, Perry 5."
For the two candidates at the front of the polls in the South Carolina, though, the past 36 hours have been grueling.
For Romney, questions continue about whether and to what extent he will release his tax returns -- a topic raised at the Jan. 16 debate and given more steam when prominent Romney supporter and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie urged him to release them soon. Also, a Jan. 18 ABC News report added to the story by claiming that millions of dollars of Romney's wealth are held in the Cayman Islands, which the ABC News report calls "a notorious Caribbean tax haven."
For Gingrich, an interview granted by Gingrich's former wife, Marianne, to ABC News took off before it even ran, with Matt Drudge claiming at the Drudge Report that the interview could cause serious damage to Gingrich's campaign -- a claim given power in the days before the "First in the South" primary by a released clip in which she says Gingrich had sought to have an open marriage.
Santorum, meanwhile, was to have joined Family Research Council president Tony Perkins and the Values Voter Bus at a Values Voter rally to take place in Charleston, S.C., earlier today. FRC is designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, in large part due to its extensive "anti-gay propoganda."
All of that news will be fodder for tonight's scheduled debate. The CNN/Southern Republican Presidential Debate, to be hosted by CNN's John King, is to start at 8 p.m. tonight.