Rick Perry rides out of the Republican race

But will his departure help Newt?

Texas governor Rick Perry has done what many thought inevitable after his poor result in Iowa and dropped out of the Republican race.

In a press conference today in North Charleston, South Carolina, Perry said: "I know when it's time to make a strategic defeat ... The mission is greater than the man and there is no way viable path forward for me in this 2012 campaign."

Perry went on to endorse former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, calling him a "visionary" with the "ability to rally and capture the conservative movement". Perry said that he heads back to Texas with his pride intact and with the same objective -- to replace President Obama with a conservative leader.

The news hardly comes as a surprise seeing as Perry trailed in fifth place in Iowa and skipped the New Hampshire primary altogether. His debate performances throughout the race have been lacklustre and his inability to name the three federal agencies that he would eliminate if elected president arguably sealed his fate some time ago.

Perry's endorsement of Gingrich is equally unsurprising. Both sit to the right of frontrunner Mitt Romney and have known each other for some time; Gingrich wrote the introduction to Perry's book Fed Up. With Gingrich and Santorum now the only conservative alternatives to Romney, the former Speaker's camp will be hoping that, with Perry's endorsement, they can steer his donors and supporters towards Gingrich.

However, Perry's endorsement might not actually help Gingrich much at all. Since Monday night's debate Gingrich has already gained significant ground and much of this was at Perry's expense. Therefore, voters may have already thrown their support behind Gingrich days ago, which would account for his surge.

With another debate tonight and the primary two days away, the best thing Gingrich can do right now is ride the wave of momentum in South Carolina and continue to coalesce the non-Romney vote.

Although Gingrich has won strong reviews from conservative commentators following an impressive debate on Monday night, he still faces several hurdles surrounding his infidelity and second wife Marianne Gingrich's claims that the GOP presidential hopeful wanted an "open marriage".

The race for the Republican nomination now consists of Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul. Perry became the fourth Republican candidate to drop out of the race after former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman ended his presidential bid on Monday.

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French presidential election: Macron and Le Pen projected to reach run-off

The centrist former economy minister and the far-right leader are set to contest the run-off on 7 May.

Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will contest the run-off of the French presidential election, according to the first official projection of the first-round result.

Macron, the maverick former economy minister, running under the banner of his centrist En Marche! movement, is projected to finish first with an estimated 23.7 per cent of the vote, putting him marginally ahead of Le Pen. The leader of the far-right Front National is estimated to have won 21.7 per cent, with the scandal-hit Républicain François Fillon and the left-winger Jean-Luc Mélenchon tied for third on an estimated 19.5 per cent each. Benoît Hamon, of the governing Socialist Party, is set to finish a distant fourth on just 6.2 per cent. Pollsters Ifop project a turnout of around 81 per cent, slightly up on 2012.

Macron and Le Pen will now likely advance to the run-off on 7 May. Recent polling has consistently indicated that Macron, who at 39 would be the youngest candidate ever to win the French presidency, would probably beat Le Pen with roughly 60 per cent of the vote to her 40. In the immediate aftermath of the announcement, he told Agence France Presse that his En Marche! was "turning a page in French political history", and went on to say his candidacy has fundamentally realigned French politics. "To all those who have accompanied me since April 2016, in founding and bringing En Marche! to life, I would like to say this," he told supporters. " 'In the space of a year, we have changed the face of French political life.' "

Le Pen similarly hailed a "historic" result. In a speech peppered with anti-establishment rhetoric, she said: "The first step that should lead the French people to the Élysée has been taken. This is a historic result.

"It is also an act of French pride, the act of a people lifting their heads. It will have escaped no one that the system tried by every means possible to stifle the great political debate that must now take place. The French people now have a very simple choice: either we continue on the path to complete deregulation, or you choose France.

"You now have the chance to choose real change. This is what I propose: real change. It is time to liberate the French nation from arrogant elites who want to dictate how it must behave. Because yes, I am the candidate of the people."

The projected result means the run-off will be contested by two candidates from outside France's establishment left and right parties for the first time in French political history. Should Le Pen advance to the second round as projected, it will mark only the second time a candidate from her party has reached the run-off. Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, reached the second round in 2002, but was decisively beaten by Jacques Chirac after left-wingers and other mainstream voters coalesced in a so-called front républicain to defeat the far right.

Fillon has conceded defeat and backed Macron, as have Hamon and the French prime minister, Bernard Cazeneuve. "We have to choose what is best for our country," Fillon said. "Abstention is not in my genes, above all when an extremist party is close to power. The Front National is well known for its violence and its intolerance, and its programme would lead our country to bankruptcy and Europe into chaos.

"Extremism can can only bring unhappiness and division to France. There is no other choice than to vote against the far right. I will vote for Emmanuel Macron. I consider it my duty to tell you this frankly. It is up to you to reflect on what is best for your country, and for your children."

Though Hamon acknowledged that the favourite a former investment banker – was no left-winger, he said: "I make a distinction between a political adversary and an enemy of the Republic."

Mélenchon, however, has refused to endorse Macron, and urged voters to consult their own consciences ahead of next month's run-off.

The announcement sparked ugly scenes in Paris in the Place de la Bastille, where riot police have deployed tear gas on crowds gathered to protest Le Pen's second-place finish. Reaction from the markets was decidedly warmer: the euro hit a five-month high after the projection was announced.

Now read Pauline Bock on the candidate most likely to win, and the NS'profiles of Macron and Le Pen.

 

Patrick Maguire writes about politics and is the 2016 winner of the Anthony Howard Award.

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