Six Things to Look Out for Going Into the Iowa Caucuses

As Iowa approaches, recent developments continue to roil the GOP 2012 race.

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As the Republican nominating process moves toward the Iowa caucuses a week from today, six new developments are roiling the race.

1. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas is getting more scrutiny than ever. The news media are focusing on newsletters bearing his name from the 1980s and 1990s that contained racist comments. Paul says others wrote those comments without his knowledge and he has disavowed them. Paul is also being attacked for having what his critics call extreme views, such as his support for pulling back American troops and ending U.S. military commitments around the world, for proposing to slash the federal budget by $1 trillion in a single year, and for reducing government surveillance of suspected terrorists. This morning, the Washington Post characterized Paul's record in Congress as one of "tenacity" and "futility."

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2. Former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts remains in a strong position in Iowa, in New Hampshire where the first primary will he held January 10, and nationally, according to the latest polls. But some analysts wonder if negative ads on Romney's behalf in Iowa, which attack his opposition, may go too far and cause a backlash.

3. Over the weekend, Virginia authorities announced that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had failed to submit enough petition signatures to qualify for the state's primary on March 6. This wasn't only a setback for Gingrich in one crucial primary state, it also showed a larger problem—his lack of organization. If he couldn't obtain the required 10,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot in Virginia, where Gingrich resides, GOP strategists and rivals question whether he can get his supporters to the Iowa caucuses next Tuesday and carry on an extended fight for the GOP nomination, which appears to be in prospect. Gingrich supporters say they will challenge the disqualification but it's considered unlikely to work.

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4. Similar criticisms are being made of Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, who also failed to qualifiy for the Virginia ballot. Romney and Paul did qualify, confirming the impression that their organizations are effective and extensive.

5. The criticisms of Gingrich as a front-runner are increasingly rough. CNN reports that newly obtained court documents challenge Gingrich's claim that it was his first wife, Jackie, who asked for their divorce in 1980; the documents indicate that the then-congressman asked for the divorce. It's part of the ongoing scrutiny of Gingrich's character. Some conservative Christians are concerned by Gingrich's three marriages and his explanations of why his first two marriages failed.

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6. There is still no clarity in Iowa, where the situation is volatile. The latest American Research Group poll shows the Iowa race in a statistical tie among Paul, Romney, and Gingrich. Paul has the support of 21 per cent of likely Republican caucus goers; Romney has 20 per cent, and Gingrich 19. It's particularly good news for Paul, who is surging.

All this suggests that it will be a roller-coaster ride to the finish line in Iowa over the next week.

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