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Pawlenty out, Perry in, Bachmann to win?

At least you can't say the Republican contest is turning out to be dull.

The former governor of Minnesota Tim Pawlenty has announced he's ending his bid to be the next President of the United States. It was a pretty inevitable decision -- after he came a distant third in Saturday's Iowa straw poll -- and today he admitted "we needed to get some lift to continue on, and to have a pathway forward. That didn't happen."

It'll be a huge disappointment for Pawlenty who'd been traipsing around some of the key battleground states as long ago as 2008. But he failed to raise enough money and although he'd been a popular Governor in Minnesota his personality never managed to capture the imagination of the presidential race.

With some major donors already expressing their reservations the straw poll was his last chance to prove he could connect with voters -- and he didn't pull it off.

The winner in Iowa, perhaps unsurprisingly, was right wing conservative Michelle Bachmann -- one of the founders of the Tea Party caucus on Capitol Hill. Unsurprising because Iowa's her home state and she proved to be a master of the unrelenting, anti-Obama message.

Of course victory in this rather unrepresentative, totally non-binding election is no guarantee of anything much. Just ask Mike Huckabee who aced it back in 2007. But Bachmann managed to organise a pretty vibrant grassroots effort -- now she needs to overcome the sceptics who think she's far too polarising a figure to turn that into a nationwide success. "Now it's on to all 50 states," she proclaimed yesterday -- although in the next breath, admitted she'd be concentrating in Iowa and New Hampshire for the time being.

It's certainly no shoo-in for her or anyone else -- after a late entry into the GOP nomination race. Texas Governor Rick Perry only made his official announcement last night, but he's already being talked about as a front-runner, even the putative nominee.

His conservative, Christian credentials are no less strong and right from the get-go, he's been focussing on his record, with more than ten years of experience governing Texas. His number one issue right now: jobs, with the slogan "It's time to get America working again".

What he needs to prove, is that he's got the credibility and the charisma to win over not just the conservative right but mainstream activists and voters disillusioned with President Obama. A tough challenge, from a standing start.

At least you can't say the Republican contest is turning out to be dull.

Felicity Spector is a senior producer at Channel 4 News