The fallout from the Iowa contest in the United States presidential race was swift. Within 24 hours, Rick Santorum - 2012 winner of the Republican contest in the midwest state - pulled out after failing to connect with the religious conservatives who backed him four years ago. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, who finished fifth among the Republican rivals, declared his campaign had run its course, as did Mike Huckabee, an ordained Southern Baptist minister who won Iowa in 2008.

The Democratic side shed a contender when former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley withdrew, leaving Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders as the only two candidates left.

The field, from which will emerge the 45th American president, is a little smaller. After Wednesday, when voters in New Hampshire get their say in the protracted election process, it may shrink further.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, one of the really big names in the contest for the White House, is facing a moment of truth. Despite the comfort of a hefty war chest, Bush's prospects of following his Republican brother and father into the Oval Office took a knock in Iowa where he limped home in sixth place, 20 percentage points behind Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Marco Rubio.


Bush's failure to engage voters was apparent from the extremely poor return his financial supporters earned from an estimated US$20 million spent trying to knock Rubio's prospects. The young Florida senator gave Trump a fright in Iowa, surging to within one percentage point of the New York billionaire, and in the process hurt Bush's chances of locking in his presumptive right to carry the banner for the party's establishment.

Senior Republicans are said to see the choice of Trump or Cruz as being fatal to the party's cause because of the extreme views of both men. The best hope the party has to reclaim the presidency, according to this analysis, lies with candidates prepared to negotiate compromises. That could be Rubio.

This perspective may be correct but it will not shake Trump's bombastic conviction that America needs him.

With Rubio snapping at his heels, Trump responded to his defeat at the hands of Cruz by claiming his Texas rival stole the Iowa result. Like a lot of what Trump declaims, the assertion had the hallmarks of a wild statement designed to seize the media spotlight, a tactic which the property mogul has deployed throughout the campaign.

The race has four months to run until June when the nominees should become clear, then another six months until the election in November.

The US faces serious challenges. Racial divisions remain entrenched. Security fears are widespread. Millions of Americans see limited fruits from what is still the world's largest economy. And Washington faces future tests from China. On the evidence of the campaign so far, there is precious little evidence the challengers want to seriously weigh these issues. The rest of the world, watching the changing of the guard, would hope they find the time.

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