In seven weeks, the game of musical chairs in the guise of debates will take a back seat to real voters in the Iowa caucuses. Although traditionally the Iowa caucuses have not determined the eventual Republican presidential nominee, the caucuses do have a track record of winnowing the field.
The early prognostication that Iowa would be a battle between Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty for the endorsement of social conservatives looks quaintly naïve at this point. With Newt Gingrich rising in the polls and Herman Cain joining Rick Perry on the decline, Mitt Romney can certainly smell blood in the nominating waters.
If Romney wins the Hawkeye State nominating contest and follows up with a victory in New Hampshire, he will most likely capture the 2012 GOP presidential nomination without enduring a serious fight.
On the other hand, if another candidate wins the caucuses and the former Massachusetts governor fairs poorly, Romney could find himself engrossed in a long, protracted contest.
Conservatives across the country are rooting for the latter outcome. In their view, if Romney is to ultimately win the nomination, he should have to work for it.
A Bloomberg News poll of likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers (conducted Nov. 10-12) shows a virtual four-way tie between Cain at 20 percent, Ron Paul at 19 percent, Romney at 18 percent and Gingrich at 17 percent. The Romney camp may be publicly downplaying the significance of Iowa and keeping their campaign low key, but with Romney backer Chris Christie scheduled for an Iowa visit, it’s obvious that the campaign now sees Iowa as a big prize.
Seven weeks out, Romney certainly has an opening in Iowa and is looking to deliver a knockout blow to the rest of the field. Only time will tell if he is successful.
Ford O’Connell is the chairman of CivicForumPAC, the editor of the Political Quarterback and an advisor to conservative candidates.