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White House race starts in earnest: Romney, Paul lead in Iowa caucus

Ahead of the Iowa state caucus, latest poll by a newspaper shows Mitt Romney leading the Republican pack. Yashwant Raj reports. Candidates in the run

world Updated: Jan 02, 2012 00:47 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times

Mitt Romney and Ron Paul are joint favourites in the latest, and the last, poll for the Iowa state caucus that will kick off the Republican presidential primaries on Tuesday.

And guess where Paul celebrated? Back at home in Texas with his family. He may have even gone biking, hitting the trail behind his ranch house.

But the other five stayed, pumping flesh, cracking jokes, and, like Newt Gingrich, crying. The seventh, Jon Huntsman, believes his brand of moderate conservatism has no draw for the evangelical Republicans of Iowa, and has gone straight to the next stop in the primaries, New Hampshire.

The latest poll, by Des Moines Register (an Iowa newspaper), released Sunday showed Romney leading the pack with 24%, and Paul within striking distance with 22% —with 4% being the stated margin of error, the gap is hardly decisive. Rick Santorum was third, Gingrich fourth, Perry fifth and Michele Bachmann last.

The newspaper got the 2008 poll right, predicting Obama for the Democrats and Mike Huckabee for the Republicans. They both won their Iowa primaries respectively. Obama, of, course went on to win the presidential election, and Huckabee failed to get his party’s nomination losing to John McCain.

If the Register is right again Iowa is going with either Romney or Paul. But Paul, a libertarian who believes in an extreme brand of conservatism — small government, isolationist foreign policy, bring all US troops home, abolish the Federal Reserve Bank — is not expected to last the distance.

The Republican establishment is scared of him, though the influential Tea Party activists in the party love him. It’s the reverse for Romney, who is loved by the establishment for his moderate conservatism but not by the Tea Party, which finds him lacking conviction as a conservative.

Gingrich, a former speaker of the US house of representatives, have fired up the Republican base with his pugnacious debate performances and jumped to the top position. But he has since faltered unable to withstand the pressures of a frontrunner — intense scrutiny by the media and a stream of negative ads by his rivals. He has slipped in recent days.

Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator, has seen his fortunes rise, climbing to number three position in the latest poll, from the single digits he had languished among for the last so many weeks.

It’s been a long and bruising fight, and there is still plenty left before the Republican party gets a candidate to take on President Barack Obama, who is seeking a second term.

Tim Pawlenty was the first to drop out after balking at a debate from backing his own attack on Romney’s health care plan during his governorship of Massachusetts. He wimped out of the race, literally. Next to go was Herman Cain, the former pizza chain executive who had stunned all rocketing to the top position with his simple message of 9-9-9 tax reforms (9% income tax, 9% sales tax and 9% corporate income tax).

But he couldn’t handle the heat either. Nor the allegations of sexual harassment going back to his days as chief of the National Restaurant Association. And then an affair. But what really undid his candidacy was the embarrassing fumble over Libya during an interaction with the editorial board of a newspaper. A video of Cain looking at the camera, then away and then up at the ceiling as he struggled for an answer went viral on internet.

There will be others dropping out of the race as it gets closer to the August convention in Tampa, where the Republican Party will name its candidate to take on Obama.

For now, it’s Iowa.

First Published: Jan 02, 2012 00:20 IST