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Texas Gov. Perry's poor Iowa showing leaves him struggling

DES MOINES, Iowa — Texas Gov. Rick Perry faced his first defeat in a 27-year-political career Tuesday night in Iowa's Republican presidential caucuses, after waging an impassioned final blitz in an attempt to snare wavering caucus-goers.

With former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum leading with about 90 percent of the vote counted, and Perry's fellow Texan Ron Paul not far behind, the Texas governor's hope for a third-place finish to infuse momentum into his struggling presidential bid fell well short.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia was a distant fourth with about 13 percent of the vote, while Perry was running fifth at about 10 percent.

Perry led the field shortly after entering the race in mid-August, but he plunged in the polls after poor debate performances and other miscues.

Perry has vowed to remain in the race despite the Iowa results, portraying himself as a long-distance runner at the outset of a campaign marathon. But his poor showing leaves him struggling to survive, analysts said.

Perry's post-Iowa strategy seemed to be focused heavily on the first Southern primary, in South Carolina, where he hopes to use his stature as a Southern governor and his strong ties to evangelical voters to rebound into contention for the 2012 presidential nomination.

The governor planned to leave Iowa on Wednesday afternoon to head to Aiken, S.C., where he will walk the main street and hold a town-hall meeting. Other South Carolina stops include North Augusta, Lexington and Orangeburg.

Perry's immediate post-Iowa focus on South Carolina stirred initial speculation that he plans to effectively ignore next Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, where Romney, who served as a neighboring state governor, holds a commanding lead. But aides say Perry will conduct campaign events when he goes to New Hampshire to participate in two weekend debates.

With his rugged good 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 2012 presidential race after weeks of consideration. He quickly surpassed Romney to take the lead, stirring talk that he was on the march toward the Republican nomination.

But a lackluster performance in early debates — including his "oops moment," in which he forgot the name of one three agencies he wanted to eliminate — contributed to a prolonged downturn in the polls. Perry recovered in later debates and seemed to regain his political footing in a just-ended 44-city bus tour, in which he delivered impassioned appeals for Iowans to rally behind his candidacy.

As he made a final round of appearances Tuesday, Perry urged potential caucus-goers 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 use of the Internet 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 gave him a favorable answer to his question about the Internet, said he would "probably" support Perry.

Before the voting Tuesday, Robert Haus, Perry's Iowa co-chairman, said the Perry campaign planned to have a presence at nearly all of Iowa's 1,774 precinct caucuses. Supporters, many wearing white Perry T-shirts, made speeches to tout his candidacy and worked the crowd before the caucuses.

Volunteers have contacted more than 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.

(Montgomery is Austin bureau chief for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.)

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