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How GOP's rising Rick Santorum could compete through Super Tuesday

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A shrinking field is likely to help Santorum. Late Tuesday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced he was returning to Texas to reassess his campaign, a signal that he is probably about to drop out of the race. Governor Perry, who stumbled in debates after a promising start to his campaign, finished fifth in Iowa with 10 percent.

One candidate who is sure to stay in the hunt is Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who finished a strong third here with 21 percent. The libertarian-leaning congressman has a devoted following, one that has grown substantially from the 10 percent he won in Iowa four years ago. His departures from mainstream Republican thought make him anathema to the Republican establishment, but party leaders will tiptoe carefully around him amid concerns he might launch a third-party candidacy that could harm the eventual GOP nominee.

The Republican nomination sweepstakes now moves to New Hampshire, which holds its primary next Tuesday. Romney is well-known there as the former governor of a neighboring state and part-time resident, and has polled well there since the start of the 2012 cycle. He should win New Hampshire comfortably. But he can take nothing for granted – especially after nearly losing to the upstart Santorum in Iowa.

After all, Romney lost New Hampshire four years ago to the Republicans’ eventual nominee, Sen. John McCain. The Arizona senator is expected to endorse Romney on Wednesday in New Hampshire, where McCain remains popular. Four years ago, there was no love lost between the former rivals, but Romney subsequently campaigned for McCain in Arizona when the senator ran for reelection in 2010.

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