There are five shopping days left until Christmas, and only 15 days until the Iowa caucuses. In between will be New Year’s Eve/Day and not one but two college football bowl games involving schools based in the Hawkeye State.

Members of the audience listen to Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) during a town hall meeting at the Erickson Public Library during a campaign stop on December 8, 2011 in Boone, Iowa. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

“With the two holidays and both Iowa and Iowa State having bowl games, it’s going to be difficult for any candidate to change anything from where we are today before about Jan. 2,” said Becky Beach, a longtime Iowa Republican operative who is not affiliated with anyone in the current field.

(The Iowa Hawkeyes play the Oklahoma Sooners on Dec. 30 in the Insight Bowl; the Iowa State Cyclones face off against Rutgers on the same day in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.)

The candidates seem committed to putting the deep freeze idea to the test — drowning the airwaves with political ads and barnstorming the state (Texas Gov. Rick Perry is on a 44-city bus tour through the state) in hopes of capturing the attention of Iowa voters.

Of course, campaigning through (or even close to) Christmas carries it’s own set of risks. Many voters — particularly evangelicals — view the holiday as a time to put aside everything but faith and family. A robo-call slamming a rival or a piece of mail doing the same could just as easily alienate a potential voter as persuade them to your side.

Solving that puzzle — how much to campaign and when — will be critical this year. Polling suggesting that large swaths of Iowa Republican caucus-goers remain undecided, and even the leading candidates bunched within a handful of points in recent polling.

The return of economic optimism?: As we’ve said on this blog before, the moment things really started heading south for President Obama was when the American people started to think not just that the economy wasn’t improving, but that it wouldn’t improve, period — at least not any time soon.

That may be changing.

National Journal’s Ron Brownstein notes that a new Allstate/National Journal Heartland Monitor poll shows optimism about the economy beginning to return. Since October, the number of people saying they expect the economy to improve has ticked up from 50 percent to 56 percent, while those who expect it to decline has ... well ... declined from 46 percent to 36 percent.

If people remain optimistic about the future, Obama has a fighting chance. Keep an eye on measures of economic optimism in the weeks and months ahead.

A return to foreign policy with death of Kim Jong Il: The death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il, which was first reported late Sunday evening, should return the focus of the GOP presidential race to foreign policy, at least for a time.

In recent weeks, the GOP candidates have been talking a lot about what they would do if Iran became an imminent threat; now the death of the longtime North Korean strongman makes the second leg of the “axis of evil” very relevant again.

Given Newt Gingrich’s more lengthy foreign policy track record — not to mention the hawkish stances he’s taken on the campaign trail in regards to Iran and Israel — it’s not a stretch to think this helps him.

His top competitor, after all, is a governor.


The Des Moines Register endorses Mitt Romney , while Nate Silver looks at the endorsement’s mixed track record.

Former senator Bob Dole writes a letter endorsing Romney, who said four years ago that Dole was the last person he wanted writing him letters.

Romney explains the photo of him and his Bain Capital colleagues with money stuffed in their suits.

Another recent Romney endorser, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R), dismisses a recent poll showing she isn’t terribly popular in her home state. She also says she won’t be his vice presidential nominee.

Perry hits Gingrich for raiding Social Security to balance the budget and Romney for raising corporate taxes.

Gingrich signs up direct mail consultant Martin Baker.

Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman picks up a couple newspaper endorsements in New Hampshire.


Evangelicals divided on whom to support in GOP presidential race” — Jason Horowitz, Washington Post

Affirmative-action foes urge Supreme Court to take Texas case” — Robert Barnes, Washington Post

Newt Gingrich’s assault on ‘activist judges’ draws criticism, even from right” — Amy Gardner and Matt DeLong, Washington Post


Boehner: House will defeat 2-month tax cut, send it to conference

Evangelicals divided on whom to support in GOP presidential race