Perry Quits GOP Race, Endorses Gingrich

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  January 19, 2012 at 8:06 AM EST

Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Photo by Kayana Szymczak/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

UPDATE 11:30 a.m. ET Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced at a press conference at 11 a.m. ET that he is suspending his campaign for president. He endorsed former House speaker Newt Gingrich, calling him a “conservative visionary who can transform our country.” Gingrich accepted the endorsement and tweeted soon after:

Gwen Ifill tweeted a photo of Gingrich accepting the endorsement at a separate campaign event in Beaufort, S.C.

9:30 a.m. ET

Several news outlets Thursday morning are reporting that Texas Gov. Rick Perry is ending his bid for the GOP presidential nomination. Perry is expected to make his announcement at an 11 a.m. press conference in North Charleston, S.C. Politico reported that Perry will endorse former House speaker Newt Gingrich.

Stay tuned.

NEW TALLY PUTS ROMNEY’S IOWA WIN IN DOUBT

Suddenly Mitt Romney’s prospects to be the GOP presidential nominee do not seem so inevitable. Sure, the front-runner remains on top of South Carolina polls ahead of Saturday’s primary. But his margin has narrowed, and Gingrich is gaining traction.

On Thursday morning, Iowa Republicans will reveal the final tally of caucus-goers, and it appears Romney did not win by eight votes after all. The Des Moines Register offers this helpful by-the-numbers breakdown:

THE RESULTS: Santorum finished ahead by 34 votes

MISSING DATA: 8 precincts’ numbers will never be certified

PARTY VERDICT: GOP official says, ‘It’s a split decision’

Rick Santorum – Final total: 29,839 Change: -168

Mitt Romney – Final total: 29,805 Change: -210

Even though this won’t be official until later Thursday, the former Massachusetts governor issued a statement that sounds as if he’s prepared to see himself drop to second place behind Rick Santorum.

“The results from Iowa caucus night revealed a virtual tie,” Romney said. “I would like to thank the Iowa Republican Party for their careful attention to the caucus process, and we once again recognize Rick Santorum for his strong performance in the state. The Iowa caucuses, with record turnout, were a great start to defeating President Obama in Iowa and elsewhere in the general election.”

A second-place showing in the Hawkeye State would be yet the latest blow in what has been a bruising week for the front-runner, and it would strip him of the claim that he was the first non-incumbent Republican presidential candidate in the modern era to win the first two nominating contests.

ROMNEY’S TAX TROUBLES

Romney tried Wednesday to change the subject from questions about his personal tax rate and releasing his tax returns to Gingrich’s leadership style and taking credit for job creation during the Reagan administration.

“Government doesn’t create jobs. It’s the private sector that creates jobs,” Romney said at a rally in Spartanburg, S.C. “Congressmen taking responsibility or taking credit for helping create jobs is like Al Gore taking credit for the Internet.”

The Romney campaign also dispatched surrogates — former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent and former New York Rep. Susan Molinari — to turn up the heat on Gingrich, criticizing his leadership as House speaker in a Wednesday conference call and in separate web videos.

“The last time Newt Gingrich was the head of the Republican Party as speaker, he became so controversial, he helped reelect a Democratic president,” Molinari said in her web video, “Undisciplined.” (They also bought unreliableleader.com)

Gingrich fired back, calling the videos “stupid,” and looked to turn the charges against Romney.

“My only question is so what did Mitt Romney do? Who did he help elect? What was he doing during those years?” Gingrich told reporters in Winnsboro, S.C., reports Seema Mehta of the Los Angeles Times. “Show us how many Republicans you helped elect in the ’80s when you weren’t for Reagan and Bush. Show us how many Republicans you helped elect in ’92 when you were voting as a Democrat for Paul Tsongas.”

But Gingrich also sought to keep Romney’s tax issues alive, joking that he would re-brand his flat tax proposal in honor of the front-runner. “Ironically, it turned out yesterday that Mitt Romney pays about a 15 percent rate, so we’re going to name our flat tax the ‘Mitt Romney 15 percent flat tax.’”

Santorum did not seize the opportunity to attack Romney when asked about the former business executive’s 15-percent effective tax rate after a town hall in Spartanburg, S.C. “It’s a tax rate that more people should pay, not just him,” Santorum said, before adding, “We have a tax code that is broken and that’s why we need to try to fix it and make sure we have low taxes and fair taxes for everybody.”

The focus on Romney’s personal wealth seemed likely to stretch into another day Thursday, after ABC News reported that the former Massachusetts governor had millions of dollars in offshore accounts.

In addition to paying the lower tax rate on his investment income, Romney has as much as $8 million invested in at least 12 funds listed on a Cayman Islands registry. Another investment, which Romney reports as being worth between $5 million and $25 million, shows up on securities records as having been domiciled in the Caymans.

Official documents reviewed by ABC News show that Bain Capital, the private equity partnership Romney once ran, has set up some 138 secretive offshore funds in the Caymans.

The Romney campaign quickly pushed back on the story. “ABC is flat wrong,” Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul said in a statement. “The Romneys’ investments in funds established in the Cayman Islands are taxed in the very same way they would be if those funds were established in the United States. These are not tax havens and it is false to say so.”

The NewsHour explored the taxes issue Wednesday night with Michael Kranish, a Boston Globe reporter and co-author of “The Real Romney.” Watch.

PALMETTO STATE POLLS

A pair of new polls show that Romney is still the front-runner in South Carolina, but with Gingrich nipping at his heels, getting a boost from his strong debate performance Monday night in Myrtle Beach.

Romney received the support of 34 percent of likely Republican voters in South Carolina, followed by Gingrich at 24 percent, Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 16 percent, Santorum at 14 percent and Texas Gov. Rick Perry at 4 percent, according to an NBC News-Marist survey released Thursday.

But there was a stark contrast between the numbers before and after Monday night’s debate, one of Romney’s shakiest performances of the campaign, while Gingrich had a strong showing, delivering numerous applause lines.

“On Monday before the debate, Romney led Gingrich in the poll by 15 points, 37 percent to 22 percent. But on Tuesday, that advantage narrowed to just five points, 31 percent to 26 percent,” writes Mark Murray of NBC News.

Gingrich saw his standing among self-identified “very conservative” voters, Tea Party supporters and evangelical Christians surge from one day to the next.

But Romney still holds an advantage when it comes to electability, with a majority of GOP voters — 56 percent — seeing him as best able to defeat President Obama.

And a new Politico poll of South Carolina Republicans found Romney with 37 percent and Gingrich at 30 percent. Paul had 11 percent, Santorum had 10 percent and Perry had 4 percent.

The poll shows that Gingrich’s debate performances have been a key factor in his level of support, writes the paper’s James Hohmann.

Among those who claim they’ve watched all or almost all of the 16 debates so far, 49 percent support Gingrich compared to 23 percent who back Romney. Gingrich ranks fourth, at 11 percent, among Republicans who did not catch any of the debates.

Romney is keeping his focus on President Obama and released a new television ad in South Carolina Thursday morning saying he’d be the better leader.

OBAMA GOES ON THE AIR

While the Republicans battle, the Obama campaign is going live with a new television ad in six battleground states. The 30-second spot focuses on energy and complains, “[O]il executives have funded an ad campaign attacking” the president’s record of “progress” on energy issues. The commercial begins running Thursday in Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The White House announced Wednesday that President Obama will hit five swing states after the State of the Union on Jan. 24. He will appear in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Phoenix on Wednesday, and in Las Vegas and Denver on Thursday. On Friday, Mr. Obama will speak in Detroit. He won all of those states except for Arizona in 2008, and each is critical to his re-election battle.

On Wednesday, the administration denied the application for the hotly debated Keystone oil pipeline project, an issue that has plagued the president and Democrats for months. The NewsHour’s report is here.

And in case there was any doubt the decision was political, consider this section from Politico’s story about the pipeline:

Democrats outside the West Wing and Chicago-based campaign say the politics were clear: With the exceptions of the grousing unions (who will have no choice but to support him in 2012), the party’s donor base, environmental advocates down to their hybrid SUVs oppose the pipeline.

In fact, a top Democratic fundraiser told POLITICO that the two most frequent questions he heard from wealthy would-be contributors were “about Keystone and gay marriage.”

2012 LINE ITEMS

Just as Romney seems a little deflated, the candidates are set to meet in another debate. Team Gingrich spliced a new web ad starring Sen. John McCain and Mike Huckabee, who complained about Romney running a dishonest and “desperate” campaign in 2008.

The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty talks with Gingrich, and he says he thinks he can mount a comeback and topple Romney with a strong debate performance.

After some debate about whether to run the story, ABC News now says it will air an interview with Gingrich’s ex-wife, Marianne, Thursday night.

American Urban Radio’s April Ryan writes about the “complicated relationship” between Gingrich and black leaders.

Roll Call’s Shira Toeplitz profiles Republican ad maker John Brabender, whom she calls “Santorum’s longtime political guru — and godfather of one of his seven children.”

From her story: Brabender played Santorum’s consigliere on all five of his Congressional races, starting with his first House bid in 1990 and ending with his disastrous Senate re-election in 2006. Now, he’s a top adviser to his White House campaign.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza looks at Stephen Colbert’s potential impact on the race.

The Center for Public Integrity took a deep dive into the elite donors who bundle campaign cash for the Obama campaign and found that dozens “have been appointed to advisory panels and commissions that can play a role in setting government policy.” Others “have been invited to a range of exclusive White House briefings, holiday parties and splashy social events. And some have snagged lucrative government contracts that benefit their business interests or investment portfolios.”

TWEETS OF THE MORNING

@gwenifill: So many anti-ads on morning TV in Columbia, little room left for news, weather & traffic.

@shiratoeplitz: Portman backs Romney. Hello, veepstakes folks!

@jonathanwpeters: 162 million visited blacked-out Wikipedia. Google petition got 4.5 million sigs. 1 million emails sent to congressmen. http://bit.ly/zmlzOE

DCCC TARGETS

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel on Wednesday revealed the 18 candidates the committee will boost via its “Red to Blue” program. The timing of the announcement, 10 months before the election, signifies the beginning of what Israel said he hopes will be “a perfect storm” for the GOP this November.

Candidates were selected for the “Red to Blue” program based on their performance against a series of metrics, including fundraising and organizational and campaign infrastructure targets set by the DCCC.

At a briefing for reporters, the New York Democrat acknowledged the difficulty his party had in swaying independent voters during the 2010 midterm elections. According to a Gallup survey at the time, independent voters favored Republican candidates by a 10-point margin in 2010. A Gallup survey released last week showed 40 percent of voters nationwide identify themselves as independent.

In order to sway middle-class independent voters, the DCCC will try to strike a populist note with a focus on taxes and opposing the Medicare changes in Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget blueprint that Republicans supported in the House.

“We lost the House of Representatives when we lost 9 million independent votes,” Israel said of the 2010 midterms. “We are going to win [the House majority] back when we win those independent voters.”

DCCC officials believe there are 76 House seats up for grabs in the 2012 elections. Democrats will need to win 25 of those seats to achieve a majority. At a breakfast meeting with the press on Tuesday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., set the bar slightly higher, saying, “We believe the 25 [seats] are there, except I want 35.”

In reality, winning 25 will be a difficult slog for the Democrats thanks to redistricting and the partisan makeup of many of the targeted seats. One reason Israel and Pelosi are hopeful: Many of the Republicans they aim to unseat are in districts that Mr. Obama won in 2008 or that Sen. John Kerry won in 2004.

Ten of the 18 House members that the “Red to Blue” candidates will be targeting are freshmen. See the full list here.

OUTSIDE THE LINES

First lady Michelle Obama will be on the cover of the February issue of More Magazine.

The Morning Line obtained some excerpts. Among the highlights, the president’s wife tells the women’s magazine that her passion for mentoring is “very personal.”

“I mean, growing up the way that I did — kid from the South Side, going to public schools–the more my career developed, I realized how much I didn’t see, how little exposure I had to opportunities,” she said.

Mrs. Obama also quipped about her official acronym:

“They call me FLOTUS, for first lady of the United States … And there are many times when FLOTUS and POTUS feel like characters.” There have even been times, she says, when she’s craned her own neck to see which celebrity might be causing all the excitement. “And it’s me. Oh, man, it’s FLOTUS. FLOTUS is here. No one told me FLOTUS was coming.”

The issue will be on newsstands Feb. 17.

Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour defends his last minute pardons in a Washington Post op-ed.

Politico’s Manu Raju reports on Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown’s efforts to highlight his bipartisan bona fides.

New York Magazine offers a look at the birthday letter President Obama sent to “New Girl” actress Zooey Deschanel.

NewsHour desk assistant Alex Bruns contributed to this report.

ON THE TRAIL

All events are listed in Eastern Time.

  • The five GOP contenders will meet for a debate hosted by CNN and the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in Charleston at 8 p.m.

  • Rick Perry addresses the SRLC in Charleston, S.C., at 9 a.m., and gives a press conference in North Charleston at 11 a.m.

  • Newt Gingrich hosts a pair of South Carolina town halls: in Bluffton at 9 a.m. and in Beaufort at 11 a.m. He also attends a BBQ in Walterboro at 1 p.m.

  • Mitt Romney visits his South Carolina campaign headquarters in Charleston at 10:10 a.m.

  • Rick Santorum holds a rally in Charleston, S.C., at 12:45 p.m. and addresses the SRLC at 4 p.m.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

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Follow the politics team on Twitter: @cbellantoni, @burlij, @elizsummers, @quinnbowman.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said that President Obama won the state of Arizona in the 2008 election. Sen. John McCain won the state.