The state in which handshakes and door-to-door conversations are still part of the campaign plan will have its say in reshaping the GOP presidential landscape. After numerous debates, countless advertisements, and endless speeches, the caucus voters of Iowa will get the ball rolling with a real election. Will it be Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum? Maybe Ron Paul will pull a surprise? What about the other candidates?
According to a Rasmussen Reports poll released on Thursday, Mitt Romney leads the field in Iowa with 23% support. He is followed by Ron Paul at 22% and Rick Santorum at 16%. Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry each have 13%.
Just over week ago, it was Romney 25%, Paul 20% and Gingrich 17%, with Santorum and Perry each at 10%. The week before that, it was Romney 23%, Gingrich 20% and Paul 18%. Gingrich surged to the head of the pack in mid-November but fell back noticeably under fire from his opponents.
Romney leads among Republican voters with 26% support, followed by Santorum at 19%. Gingrich and Paul each attract 15% support from Republican voters while Perry earns 12%.
Among non-Republicans who plan to participate, Paul dominates with 38% of the vote. Romney is a distant second among non-Republicans at 15% followed by Perry at 14%.
Oh… and he’s an interesting bit of polling data for you: “Forty-one percent (41%) of all caucus participants say they still could change their minds.” Over 4 in 10 respondents could still change their minds? I don’t understand how that could be so high, but it does mean that tonight’s results could be full of surprises.
Here’s a look at what the candidates have been doing during the Iowa home stretch:
Mitt Romney: Confident in his lead and organization, Romney is predicting victory.
“We’re going to win this thing with all our passion and strength and do everything we can to get this campaign on the right track to go across the nation and pick up the states and to get the ballots I need and the votes I need to become our nominee,” said Romney at a campaign event according to reports.
A victory in Iowa could lead to a roll for Romney, as the more favorable New Hampshire is next up on the election list.
Ron Paul: The Texas congressman continues to poll well and draw good crowds at his Iowa events. Paul told The Hill, “The size of the crowds tells me it’s going very well.”
The Texas congressman offered the opposite of a hard sell for his candidacy during his remarks, which lasted 20 minutes. He never explicitly asked people to vote for him, nor did he make the kind of appeals for organizational support or money that are the stock-in trade of most office-seekers. Instead, he outlined the many ills that, he argued, are ailing the nation.
Rick Santorum: The former Pennsylvania senator is seeing his best poll numbers so far, and he is clearly on a roll in Iowa. As The Hill reports:
Santorum is riding high on a surge from socially conservative voters in Iowa, and recent polling shows him within striking distance to win Tuesday’s caucuses. His events have swelled past capacity as both voters and media have flocked to see the former Pennsylvania senator speak.
Santorum accused Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), another front-runner in the state, for being behind robo-calls that accuse Santorum of being weak on gun rights.
“Believe it or not, someone is out making robo-calls suggesting that I am anti-second amendment,” he said. “Please tell your friends and neighbors that whoever that person is — Ron Paul — let’s just lay that record out. I’m an NRA member as is every other member of my family.”
Newt Gingrich: After the fall of Herman Cain, Gingrich emerged as the counter to Romney. He vaulted to first in the polls and had a sizable lead in Iowa. But when you are the front-runner, you also become a target, and the negative ads against Gingrich have taken their toll. As Fox News reports, Gingrich is now downplaying his chances in Iowa:
Gingrich told reporters, “I don’t think I’m going to win. If you look at the numbers, that volume of negativity has done enough damage. But on the other hand if the Des Moines Register was right and 41% potentially undecided, who knows what’s going to happen.”
Michele Bachmann: It’s tough when the first election of the season is the “last stand” for a candidate, but in Bachmann’s case, Iowa is her last stand. She won an early Iowa straw poll. She was the prime challenger to Romney. Then the bottom fell out. She drifted to the background noise in the debates as Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich grabbed the attention. However, her last debate performance reminded us all that she is knowledgeable on the issues and forceful in her delivery. Bachman polled at 7% in the latest Des Moines Register poll according to CNSNews.com.
Jon Huntsman: On to New Hampshire. Huntsman will not be a factor in Iowa.
If Romney wins, then he takes that momentum to New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida. If Santorum can pull an upset, we will likely hear his name for at least several more primaries and caucuses. Ron Paul may pull an upset in Iowa, but Mike Huckabee won Iowa in 2008, and he faded fast. If Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry can beat expectations and finish second or even third, that candidate can be the “comeback kid” of this election cycle.
So… how will things go tonight? What’s your prediction?