Thursday night, Republican candidates met again for the last GOP debate before the Iowa caucuses. Attention was focused on former Gov. Mitt Romney and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who top the polls. Gingrich is the latest candidate to challenge Romney for the front-runner position. Previous candidates vying for the "not-Romney" spot have included Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who won the Ames Straw Poll; Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose entrance into the race quickly overshadowed Bachmann's Ames victory; and Herman Cain, who dropped in early December after a series of sex scandals plagued his campaign. Perry and Bachmann both tried to revive their lagging campaigns at Thursday's debate. Perry, prone to gaffes, compared himself to Tim Tebow, quarterback of the Denver Broncos. Bachmann relentlessly attacked Gingrich on his relationship with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Meanwhile, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, whose supporters accuse the media of ignoring, reiterated his libertarian beliefs. At the wings of the line-up were former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Utah Gov. Jon Hunstman, who have both struggled to rise above the status of "fringe candidate."
January 3's Iowa caucuses will be the biggest test the candidates face yet. Most are watching if Gingrich can defeat Romney, signaling that perhaps his "boomlet" can last. However, Ken Walsh and Paul Bedard ponder a Ron Paul victory, as his poll numbers are surging Iowa and other early primary states. A Paul win "could propel him in New Hampshire and onward, making it possible for the Texas congressman with unusual opinions and positions to stay in the race to the end and maybe win," says Bedard. But in addition to its victor, Iowa's losers will also be significant. Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty dropped out of the race after a poor performance in the Ames Straw poll. Other candidates, particularly those who have betting a lot of time and money on Iowa, may do the same after the caucuses if they don't meet expectations.
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Previously: Was The Iraq War Worth It?