Elections 2012: Iowa Caucus to Become First Test For Republicans

Iowa Republicans will cast the first votes of the 2012 White House campaign later today, with Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul in a high-stakes battle to win the party’s kick-off nominating contest.

Mitt Romney campaigns in Clive, Iowa with Senator John Thune 01/02/12. Photo: WEBN-TV/Flickr

Voters will gather in schools, libraries and other public spots across the state to render judgment in the frequently shifting Republican race to pick a challenger to President Barack Obama in the November 6 election.

On the last full day of campaigning before the Iowa caucuses, the crowds were bigger, the appeals were more urgent, but the field was just as unsettled as when campaigning began in earnest about a year ago.

As the six candidates implored Iowans to turn out Tuesday night to support them, New York Times reporters captured the campaigning.

Rick Santorum, a conservative former US senator from Pennsylvania, is the latest candidate to rise in polls in a race that has seen a handful of hopefuls roll through the top spot, according to The Telegraph.

“Who in this race has proven that with a conservative record they were able to attract independents and Democrats?” he told a crowd of about 100 people (not including hordes of news media) who packed shoulder to shoulder inside a hotel lobby here for a voter meet-and-greet.

“Has Mitt Romney done that?” he added. “Nope. Never ran as a conservative and tried to attract any votes. Have any of the congressmen running from conservative Congressional districts proven that? Nope. Has Governor Perry, who ran as a conservative in Texas? I mean, how hard is that?”

He is battling Romney, the national front-runner and narrow leader in Iowa polls, and libertarian Paul for a crucial win in Iowa that could provide momentum and a surge of new donations as the race moves to next week’s contest New Hampshire.

On a bus tour through the state over the past week, Mr. Romney has kept his focus squarely on President Obama, presenting two starkly different visions for the future of the country, and painting himself as the candidate best equipped to wrest the White House from Mr. Obama this fall.

To sharpen the contrast with the president, he tells voters in Iowa that while he offers a “merit-based” and “opportunity society,” Mr. Obama is turning the country in an “entitlement society.”

Newt Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker who led the race just weeks ago, aims to end his slide and prove he can make a comeback.

His strategy is to be the last conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, who Mr. Gingrich believes has only limited support despite spending millions on advertising and his campaign organization.

“I should win the Iowa caucus because I’m the only candidate who would successfully debate Obama in the fall,” he said Monday. “I’m the only candidate who has an actual track record — twice, with Reagan and then as speaker — of actually changing Washington. Everybody else would be an amateur in the Obama tradition who would not know what they were doing or how to do it if they won.”

Struggling rivals like Texas Governor Rick Perry and U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann are fighting for at least a fourth-place finish that could keep their flickering White House hopes alive.

“In this particular election, we can’t take a chance,” Mrs. Bachmann said. “We can’t settle. We need to have someone who’s going to campaign and govern in the image and likeness of a Ronald Reagan and a Margaret Thatcher. And that’s what I will do.”

“I was born in Iowa,” said Mrs. Bachmann, who represents the Sixth District of Minnesota. “I grew up in Iowa.”

Beyond clarifying her roots, she said: “What I intend to do is turn the economy around. That’s my background; that’s what I understand best.”

Mr. Perry attacked Mr. Paul for his isolationist views on foreign policy, suggesting that “when Ron Paul is further to the left then Barack Obama, that should tell you something.”

And he singled out Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and onetime conservative culture warrior, as “the king of earmarks” during his time in the Senate.

The Paul campaign believes that whatever happens in Iowa, its message will resonate in the next battleground of New Hampshire with its strong strain of individualism and suspicion of taxation.

“We have every reason to believe that we can turn this around,” he said, “and that tomorrow we may well send a message that is going to be heard not just throughout Iowa but throughout this country, and believe it or not, it could be heard throughout the world.”

On the day before the Iowa caucuses, Republican voters here remain fractured. Instead of rallying around a consensus candidate, voters have retreated, with the business wing, libertarians and social conservatives each coalescing around a man who distinctly represents one of the three camps of the GOP coalition, reports The Huff Post.

“I’m undecided, and I’m still in the same boat as when I came,” said Zander Morales, a hospital worker in Des Moines after he attended a rally on Monday for Mr Paul, the US congressman from Texas. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do.”

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