Polls suggested large numbers of Republicans could change their minds before America’s first voting in the state-by-state nominating contest to challenge President Barack Obama in next year’s elections.
With the race fluid, all the campaigns are working to ensure their backers vote at Tuesday’s Iowa caucuses, where turnout of 120,000 would break the record set in 2008. Volunteer armies already are knocking on countless doors and making countless phone calls to get Iowans to the community meetings where they will take the first step toward picking a president.
Whoever wins will run next November against Obama, who is vulnerable as he seeks a second term, weighed down with voter dissatisfaction over his handling of the economy and the stagnant recovery from the recession.
As the state closes in on its caucuses, front runner and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is suddenly making a public play to win the state he largely kept at arm’s length since his stinging second-place finish in 2008.
“If you can get out here in this cold and this wind and a little bit of rain coming down, then you can sure get out on Tuesday night and you can sure find a few people to bring with you,” Romney told a crowd on a dreary Friday morning in West Des Moines.
It’s about this time every four years that scores of Christian home-school activists, pastors and other cultural conservatives fan out across the state to corral people to caucus on behalf of their chosen candidate. This year, that coalition is dividing its support among a handful of candidates that include Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
So Romney focused his fire upon his main rival Friday, casting libertarian Texas Rep. Ron Paul as a fringe candidate who does not represent the mainstream. Romney made the comments in interviews with Fox News Channel and NBC News.
“I don’t think Ron Paul represents the mainstream of Republican thought with regards to issues, particularly in foreign policy,” Romney said.
Recent polls have placed Romney and Paul at the head of the Republican pack. But Romney is viewed by many as too moderate, and Paul has sparked concerns over his isolationist views on foreign policy.
After months of campaigning and millions of dollars in television commercials, the polls depicted a race as unsettled and unpredictable as any in the four decades since Iowa’s caucuses became the kickoff event in presidential campaigns.
A pair of surveys in the last five days suggested upward of a third of all potential caucus-goers had not firmly settled on a candidate of choice.
The same polls made Romney the front-runner, and his decision to leave for a quick trip to New Hampshire and then return to Iowa and stay through caucus night projected optimism.
Paul’s views on Iran have been called into question this week by numerous other contenders, and Gingrich went so far as to say he would not vote for the Texan.
To some extent, Paul stands alone in the field because of his libertarian-leaning views. He does not want the government to have the power to ban abortions, for example, and has called for the legalization of some drugs that are now outlawed.
That has left Santorum, Gingrich, Perry and Bachmann to vie for standing as Romney’s chief opponent in the competition for evangelical voters and other conservatives.
Even before the caucuses, Romney and the rest of the field were looking ahead to New Hampshire’s primary on Jan. 10 and the first two Southern contests later in the month, in South Carolina and Florida.