Share this article

print logo

With GOP race in Iowa wide-open, candidates begin to step up efforts

Iowa's presidential caucuses are any Republican candidate's to win.

Just two months before the GOP nomination voting begins, Iowa Republicans aren't surging toward former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney even though he's essentially been running for president since losing in the state in 2008.

This time, none of his opponents has emerged as the consensus candidate of conservatives to become his main rival, as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee did four years ago.

As Tamara Scott, an undecided social conservative leader who backed Huckabee in that race, says: "It's anybody's game right now."

That could change soon.

Sensing an opening, Romney is stepping up his Iowa campaign and talking about winning the state after months of taking a more low-key approach. He probably will return to Iowa in November and hold a conference call with thousands of Iowa GOP caucus-goers.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is casting himself as the more conservative option, is starting to confront Romney. With $15 million in the bank, Perry started running an ad last week that, without mentioning Romney, challenges Romney's efforts to portray himself as the strongest candidate on the economy.

Businessman Herman Cain, a political outsider enjoying a burst of momentum, is starting to focus more on Iowa, adding campaign staff and visiting the state recently for the first time in 10 weeks. But he trails both Romney and Perry in fundraising by the millions.

For now at least, the race in Iowa is wide-open.

Saturday evening's results of a Des Moines Register poll showed Cain at the head of the pack, with the support of 23 percent of respondents. Romney came in just behind him at 22 percent.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a libertarian-leaning Republican, placed third at 12 percent, followed by Minnesota Rep. Michelle Bachmann at 8 percent. Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich polled 7 percent each, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum got 5 percent.

The up-for-grabs nature of the Iowa race matters nationally because the outcome on Jan. 3 will shape what happens in the states that vote next -- New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida -- and beyond.

As it stands now, Iowa reflects the Republican Party's lack of clarity when it comes to the crowded GOP field and its increasingly urgent search for a candidate who can defeat President Obama next fall.

"This is the first time I've waited this long to decide," said Linda Allison, an Iowan who recently attended a Perry event. "I am still waiting to be convinced."