GOP field enters home stretch before Iowa
It's just a week-and-a-half before the Iowa caucuses, the January 3 first-in-the-nation contest that can set a candidate on the road to the nomination - or effectively end the candidacy of a candidate who fails to win Iowans' hearts.At left, Brian Montonpoli discusses the state of the Republican presidential race in the latest edition of "The Drive."
The candidates are about to take a couple days off for Christmas, but they'll be back on the road on Monday and Tuesday to make one final push before the voting begins. At left, a discussion of the state of the race on "The Drive," and below, a guide to what's at stake for each of the major GOP candidates in descending order, starting with the candidates with the most to lose:
Bachmann has been campaigning feverishly in Iowa - the state where she was born - engaging in a 99 county bus tour that has taken her to every corner of the state. To keep her presidential hopes alive, she'll need a stronger-than-expected finish that allows her to plausibly claim the mantle of the consensus candidate of social conservatives. Bachmann is polling in the high single digits in Iowa in recent surveys, slightly behind another candidate angling for social conservative votes, Rick Perry; if she doesn't finish ahead of the Texas governor, it's hard to see how she stays in the race much longer.
Still, Santorum faces a serious uphill climb. He's one of the only candidates to never have seen a surge in the race, raising questions about the broadness of his appeal, even among Republicans. And it doesn't help that he is one of three candidates - along with Bachmann and Rick Perry - who are both targeting social conservatives and are now focused almost exclusively on Iowa. Santorum's best hope is that the Iowa social conservative network that rallied around Mike Huckabee in the 2008 cycle decides to throw its unified weight behind Santorum in an effort to keep either the thrice-married Newt Gingrich or Romney from becoming the GOP nominee.
If Gingrich can't reverse the trend before January 3, he'll feed into the narrative being pushed by a pro-Romney super PAC running a torrent of anti-Gingrich ads: That the former House Speaker makes such an easy target that he can't win in a general election. (Or, as the super PAC put it, he's got too much "baggage.") Gingrich is arguing that his largely positive campaign - and his shaming of his rivals for the attack ads - will translate into support on January 3; if it doesn't, concerns about his electability will harden into conventional wisdom.
Paul remains a long shot for the nomination, thanks in part to a non-interventionist foreign policy that nearly one in two Republicans calls a major reason to oppose his candidacy. But if he wins the caucuses, it becomes a lot harder for the national media - and the Republican Party - to treat him as such. In 2008, Paul held an alternate convention after the GOP denied him a speaking slot at its nominating convention. A caucus win would make such a snub impossible in 2012 - and could set the stage for a party-transforming run at the nomination.
Perry has one big advantage on Bachmann and Santorum, the two candidates with whom he is competing for social conservative votes: A war chest that allows him to blanket the state with television ads. (His finish here will provide a big clue as to the degree to which paid media really matters.) If he doesn't do well here, he will be hard pressed to make the case that he still belongs in the race. That said, his war chest means he could probably do so anyway - and, potentially, start to pick up steam once the primary process shifts to the South.
There are two nightmare outcomes for Romney: One, a Gingrich victory that reinvigorates the former House speaker's seemingly-flagging campaign, and two, a finish low enough that it prompts a new wave of stories about how little most Republicans seem to actually like Mitt Romney. Anything else will be good enough to get Romney to New Hampshire with relative ease, where the stakes for the ostensible frontrunner for the nomination are far higher.
On the trail in Iowa
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