When a primary candidate suffers a substantial defeat and states that he will “reassess” his campaign while suspending his travel to the next state in the campaign, it generally means that the candidate has decided to withdraw.  That’s what Rick Perry did last night in the aftermath of his expensive fifth-place finish far out of the running in Iowa:

Curiously, that reassessment seems to have taken place without a return to Texas. His official Twitter account sent out this message at 11:10 am ET today, with a picture of a jogging Perry attached:

And the next leg of the marathon is the Palmetto State…Here we come South Carolina!!!

Conservatives who have backed Perry will be encouraged by this development, but it prompts a few questions. What happened between last night and this morning to close out the reassessment period? And why would Perry have announced his intention to “return to Texas,” rather than proceed immediately to South Carolina, to “reassess” the campaign in the middle of a gracious concession speech, which he had to have known would be taken as a strong hint of withdrawal? It sounds as though the Perry campaign is still having problems with messaging and competency, and this time it can’t be blamed on Perry’s old campaign team. This kind of vacillation is not going to bolster confidence in Perry in the next two weeks.

Perry has the best resume in the race for conservatives, with a solid record of accomplishment in Texas for more than a decade. The campaign itself and Perry as a national candidate have proven to be less than effective on the national stage, however. If Perry does decide to stay in the race, which this tweet seems to indicate, it will keep those conservatives divided for the next couple of weeks, as Perry seems to have little hope of consolidating them in South Carolina. As I mentioned earlier, his polling in the state in December averages out to 5.7% in RCP’s calculations, behind even Bachmann, who just withdrew today. If Perry picked up all of Bachmann’s support, he would still be well behind Romney (21%) and Newt Gingrich, whose 37% average will almost surely have declined in the three weeks since the last poll, and which was dropping through December anyway.

Perry still has lots of cash and a significant organization. Perhaps he can get another chance in South Carolina, but I’d call that a long shot at this point — and the longer he stays in the race, the better it is for Mitt Romney.

Update: I added the time stamp information to clarify that this came out this morning.  The picture makes the point, if you follow the link.  In the headline thread, some people are claiming that this is a strategic head-fake to get Bachmann to withdraw, but in what universe was Bachmann a threat to any of the rest of the candidates, including Perry?