The Iowa caucus results were not what Texas Gov. Rick Perry had in mind last August when announcing his bid for the White House as a "full-throated" conservative the Republican Party could fall in behind to take on President Obama.
Iowa GOP voters just whispered for him.
Perry came in fifth with 10 percent of the votes cast in the state's first-in-the-nation caucuses, and gave every indication that he may be ready to end his campaign.
"It was the voters' decision tonight in Iowa," a subdued Perry told supporters. "I decided to return to Texas; assess the results of tonight's caucus; determine whether there is a path forward for myself in this race."
The loss was a personal first for Perry who had never lost a political race going back to his first run for the Texas House of Representatives in 1984.
"You made every minute of this worth it for ourselves, and with a little prayer and reflection, I'm going to decide the best path forward," he said late Tuesday. "There has been no greater joy in my life than to be able to share with the people of Iowa and this country that there is a model to take this country forward, and it is in the great State of Texas."
The Iowa caucuses are an exercise in expectations.
Recognizing a weak finish, Perry told voters in Des Moines just before the caucuses started Tuesday that he likened Iowa to just a small first step, "It is it is as [Louisiana governor] Bobby [Jindal] said, 'It's just like the Super Bowl is starting now.' I don't get confused that this is a marathon. It's going to go on for some time as we lay out our vision for America."
But the reality is, after more than $4 million spent by Perry's campaign and a super PAC supporting it with Iowa TV ads and a two week bus tour, Perry's vision is set now on skipping New Hampshire, where his support is near zero.
He had intended to head to South Carolina, but said late Tuesday he will return to Texas to "assess the results" of his fifth palce finish in Iowa.
Perry's had planned 11 events in South Carolina Wednesday through Friday. One of Perry's Austin advisers, Reggie Bashur, said the governor intended again turn to his strength in retail politics to appeal to veterans, Christian and fiscal conservatives.
"He is a very strong energetic candidate and he is in this for the long haul, no question in my mind," Bashur said before Perry's late night declaration Tuesday.
Perry's hope was that anti-Romney voters would consolidate behind him — not the surging Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.
From Iowa, Dallas Morning News Washington bureau chief Todd Gillman said Perry sees a narrow path to do that. "Perry has some big advantages, though. He has a lot more money, he has a pretty solid ground game organization in South Carolina, and he has a lot more money than most of the other conservatives," Gillman said.
But recent history leans against Perry. Since 1980, no GOP candidate who lost Iowa and New Hampshire has won South Carolina.
Perry's campaign said earlier Tuesday he will still appear in two debates Saturday and Sunday nights in New Hampshire and then make his stand in South Carolina January 21.
It was not clear early Wednesday whether those plans will be carried out.