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The more interesting contest in Iowa Tuesday night will not be for first place but for fourth. The guys who land in the top three will declare victory. But the poor souls in fifth place and lower might have to go home. Here's our analysis of who's likely to give up first.


Rick Perry

Likely to Place: Averaging fifth. 

A Finish That Starts Drop Out Watch: Just where the expectations are, fifth place. 

Chances of Quitting: High. Perry is talking a good game, telling voters in a Gingrichian historical comparison, "This is Concord. This is Omaha Beach. This is going up the hill realizing that the battle is worth winning," NBC News' Carrie Dann reports. And though Perry thinks the only way he can win is by getting a ton of votes in the South, The New York TimesJeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg report, "if he finishes in fifth place in the caucuses, one adviser said privately, he might ultimately have to reroute back to Texas."

Newt Gingrich

Likely to Place: Averaging fourth.

A Finish That Starts Drop Out Watch: Anywhere lower than Perry.

Chances of Quitting: Medium. Politico's Maggie Haberman writes that Gingrich and Perry are fighting for a close fourth place finish: "Any lower and neither one will have a convincing case about staying in the race through South Carolina, regardless of how many plane tickets have already been purchased." Gingrich has said he's the victim of "Romneyboating" attack ads, and after the caucuses he'll get revenge by attacking Romney every single day. He sounds bitter enough to stick it out even if it looks hopeless: "It's just like this pretense that he's a conservative," Gingrich said Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reports. "Here's a Massachusetts moderate who has tax-paid abortions in Romneycare, puts Planned Parenthood in Romneycare, raises hundreds of millions of dollars of taxes on businesses, appoints liberal judges to appease Democrats, and wants the rest of us to believe somehow he's magically a conservative." But Gingrich has a flair for the dramatic, and he quit as speaker of the House in 1998 only four years after he earned the title.

Michele Bachmann

Likely to PlaceAveraging sixth, only ahead of Jon Huntsman, who's not campaigning in Iowa.

A Finish That Starts Drop Out Watch: Anywhere lower than Huntsman, but honestly the media has already started writing off her campaign.

Chances of Quitting: Low. Bachmann said there's no way she's quitting -- she has already made travel plans. The Daily Caller's Alex Pappas notes she said on MSNBC that her campaign “already bought our plane tickets. We’re headed to South Carolina as soon as we’re done on Wednesday morning. We’ll be there. We’re going the distance.” But even before Santorum pulled ahead of her in the polls, many were urging her to quit, from Iowa evangelical leader Bob Vander Plaats to Tea Party leader Ned Ryun.

Rick Santorum

Likely to Place: Top three

A Finish That Starts Drop Out Watch: Really, only a fifth place shock would lead to calls that he bow out. Written off as a non-entity before his recent Iowa surge, Santorum will leave Iowa with more momentum than he had going in.

Chances of quitting: Low. He's been polling well. But if all the polls are wrong? Santorum said last week that he'll quit if he comes in last in the caucuses. "If I finish dead last behind the pack I'm going to pack up and go home," he told an Iowa radio station, CNN reports. "I don't think that's going to happen. I think we're going to be very much in the mix and I feel very good that we're going to surprise a lot of people in how we finish."


Mitt Romney

Likely to place: First or second.

A Finish That Starts Drop Out Watch: Third. The Non Romney wing of the Republican Party would love to have a new argument for why the party should go with someone else. 

Chances of quitting: Zero. He's planned since forever to destroy everyone in New Hampshire, no matter how poorly he does in Iowa. And it doesn't look like he'll do bad at all.

Ron Paul

Likely to place: Top three.

A Finish That Starts Drop Out Watch: Fourth. The more establishment wing of the Republican Party has tolerated Paul as a gadfly, but at some point may see him as more of distraction. A lower than expected finish would give them new ammunition for why the media should go back to ignoring the libertarian standard-bearer.

Chances of quitting: Zero. Paul is in it for his message. His campaign is organized in ten more caucus states, BuzzFeed notes: Colorado, Washington, Maine, Idaho, Minnesota, Nevada, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri and North Dakota. The goal is to get enough delegates to have an impact on the Republican Party's platform at the national convention. Paul is a long-shot to get the nomination, but he's a solid bet to be the very last candidate to concede the nomination race.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.