The Iowa Lead: Ron Paul Today, Who Tomorrow?

So far, Paul’s opponents for the nomination have largely given him a pass in the debates, except for his isolationist policies and his seeming defense of Iran’s nuclear program. But as his numbers continue to climb and more people who have not been focusing on the GOP race begin to do so, that will change. Already, criticism is surfacing over Ron Paul’s newsletters from the 1990s, which contain substantial racist content. Paul has tried to argue that he did not personally author all the material in the newsletter. But denying responsibility for what was published in a newsletter bearing his name seems about as sincere as Barack Obama claiming he missed all the inflammatory sermons of Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Paul’s eagerness to blame America for every anti-American sentiment that surfaces abroad is also beginning to draw fire.

For the first time, attacks on Paul are appearing in the mainstream conservative press. Will talk radio be next? So far, the crossfire among talk radio/cable giants has been primarily the Gingrich vs. Romney debate -- arguments over which of the two is less reliably conservative. Are these conservative leaders concerned that for some period of time the GOP candidate most in the news will be someone with Paul’s views and history?

Mitt Romney appears to have bolstered himself a bit as Gingrich’s numbers have eroded in Iowa and to a lesser extent nationally. Romney had a very solid interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, much better than his time with Bret Baier a few weeks earlier. But many conservatives are still looking for “anybody but Romney,” or in some cases “anybody but Romney or Gingrich.”

Can Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, or Rick Santorum mount a late charge in Iowa? For each of the three, the sad fact is that they are being held back by the other two. There is not a lot to choose from among the three in terms of policy. The main distinction is that Perry has been a successful governor, while Santorum and Bachmann served in the Senate and House. There has been a slow upward trajectory for all three the last few weeks in Iowa, and combined their poll showings would put one of them into a decent lead. Bachmann and Santorum have worked the state hard, Perry has had more money to advertise. Social conservatives do not seem to have a favorite among them, and so far social issues have not been the focus of the debates or most of the campaign. It is hard to see why one or the other would distance themselves from the other two in these final weeks in Iowa, though Perry may be a bit more likely to do so given his larger war chest.

Two weeks out, the leaders in Iowa are Paul, Romney, Gingrich, and Perry. All but Gingrich seem to be on the rise in the state. In a race that has been unstable from the start, it will be no surprise if more surprises are ahead.