Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.), whose campaign organization remains strong, has run into controversies over racially charged writings, while three second-tier candidates are trying to seize momentum. One of them, former senator Rick Santorum (Pa.), got the backing of two leading conservatives last week and is seen by strategists as beginning to make a move, although the question is how significant it might be.
“I’ve never seen it this fluid, this late in the process, with this many candidates,” Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn said. “In the past, maybe it’s been down to a binary choice of a couple of candidates, but the fact that half of Iowans are telling pollsters they could change their minds is unprecedented.”
Santorum was the only candidate in the state Monday. He went bird hunting with Iowa conservatives, including Rep. Steve King, whose endorsement most candidates are aggressively seeking. King said after the hunt with Santorum that he remains undecided.
“Our campaign is clearly the one that is rising right now and has the momentum,” Santorum, who was wearing bright-orange hunting gear said. “No votes have been cast, and I feel very, very good that all the work that we’ve done, all the groundwork we’re doing, the foundation we’ve laid is coming and working just perfectly.”
The other candidates are set to return Tuesday for their final pushes after a weekend break for the Christmas holiday. In the meantime, Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry launched television advertisements Monday that seemed designed to appeal to tea party activists. Romney focused on cutting government spending while Perry pumped his proposal to turn Congress into a part-time institution.
Gingrich, who is trying to regain some of the enthusiasm that lifted his candidacy early in the month, began to draw fresh contrasts with Romney over his economic policy and avowed conservatism. In a statement, the Gingrich campaign asked: “Can we trust a Massachusetts Moderate to enact a conservative agenda?”
Gingrich last week acknowledged that the negative ads — aired by a political action committee financed by Romney allies as well as Paul’s and Perry’s campaigns — had hurt him here and that he would have to fight back more aggressively. Gingrich plans to contrast his tax proposals with Romney’s, which his campaign will describe as “timid” and “moderate,” through conservative surrogates as well as the candidate himself on a 44-stop bus tour, according to a senior campaign official.