As expected, the Iowa caucuses helped separate some of the wheat from the chaff in the crowded Republican presidential primary.
The first votes of the 2016 election amounted to the last chance for a handful of GOP contenders and while only one candidate officially dropped out, Monday night’s contest left others badly wounded heading into New Hampshire’s Feb. 6 Republican debate and Feb. 9 primary.
Here’s how the caucuses shook out for the GOP’s lower-tier hopefuls.
Mike Huckabee. The former Arkansas governor withdrew from the race after a dismal showing the caucuses, an event he won in 2008.
Huckabee earned less than 2 percent of the vote Monday night, compared to the 34.4 percent he received eight years ago. Evangelical voters, the core of Huckabee’s support in 2008, simply had too many choices this time around and went mostly for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and the other top finishers, Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).
Huckabee took to Twitter to announce he was dropping out.
I am officially suspending my campaign. Thank you for all your loyal support. #ImWithHucK— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) February 2, 2016
Rick Santorum. The former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, who won the 2012 caucuses, earned even fewer votes than Huckabee, coming in at around 1 percent.
Santorum didn’t hide the fact that he was staking his candidacy on winning Iowa, which makes his decision to push ahead to the GOP primary in South Carolina on Feb. 20 all the more unusual. He’s probably hoping lightning will strike as it did for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who upset Romney, the presumptive nominee, in the Palmetto State in 2012.
Santorum shouldn’t hold his breath though: He’s at 0.3 percent in South Carolina, according to a RealClearPolitics average of polls.
Ben Carson. The retired neurosurgeon, who was once leading in some Iowa polls, came in fourth Monday night, garnering just over 9 percent.
But before the polls closed, a spokesman for Carson’s campaign announced he was going back to his home in Florida to take a break from the campaign trail.
.@RealBenCarson leaving Des Moines later tonight to avoid storm. Not suspending -- getting fresh clothes then back out Wednesday— Jason Osborne (@Jmrhosborne) February 2, 2016
The news prompted Rep. Steve King (R-IA), a major Cruz supporter, to declare Carson had dropped out of the race.
Carson looks like he is out. Iowans need to know before they vote. Most will go to Cruz, I hope. https://t.co/lW5Js50EMA— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) February 2, 2016
The finger-pointing carried into Tuesday, with Carson accusing other campaigns of “dirty tricks.”
“For months, my campaign has survived the lies and dirty tricks from my opponents who profess to detest the games of the political class, but in reality are masters of it,” he said in a statement. “Even tonight, my opponents resorted to political tricks by tweeting, texting and telling precinct captains that I had suspended my campaign – in some cases asking caucus goers to change their votes.”
That charge is “just false,” Rick Tyler, the Cruz campaign’s communications director, said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. "We simply as a campaign repeated what Ben Carson had said in his own words. That’s not a dirty trick.”
But later the caucus winner issued a statement apologizing to Carson.
“Last night when our political team saw the CNN post saying Dr. Carson was not carrying on to New Hampshire and South Carolina, our campaign updated the grassroots leaders just as we would with any breaking news story. That’s fair game.
“What the team should have done is send around the follow-up statement from the Carson campaign clarifying that he was indeed staying in the race when that came out,” said Cruz. “That was a mistake from our end, and for that I apologize to Dr. Carson.”
Carly Fiorina. With only about 2 percent of the vote, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO skipped her own caucus party and left Iowa early.
Fiorina’s campaign said she left to avoid an incoming winter storm, but it looks like no one was waiting for her, anyway.