DES MOINES, Iowa – An Iowa caucus campaign that has cycled through several Republican presidential front-runners entered its final week Monday, as unpredictable as the day conservatives began competing to emerge as Mitt Romney’s chief rival.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, released a new television commercial for the state in which he cited a “moral imperative for America to stop spending more money than we take in. It’s killing jobs,” he said.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry countered with an advertisement that said four of his rivals combined – none of them Romney – have served 63 years in Congress, “leaving us with debt, earmarks and bailouts.”
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who has invested more time in Iowa than any other contender, countered that “most Americans now believe that a little bit of experience going into a job like president is probably a good thing.”
Santorum was the only presidential candidate in the state during the day.
That changes today, with bus tours planned by Perry, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, all eager to energize their existing supporters and attract new ones.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul arrives Wednesday. Recent polls suggest he is peaking as caucus day approaches, a rise that has him tied with Romney or even ahead, and drawing more scrutiny for his views.
The result figures to be a short but intense stretch of campaigning through small towns and even smaller towns, the sort of one-on-one politicking that has largely vanished in the electronic age.
Perry’s new ad shows images of Gingrich, Paul, Santorum and Bachmann as it criticizes Congress and renews the governor’s call for halving lawmakers’ pay and time spent in Washington.
Despite the commercial’s implication, Gingrich and Santorum were out of Congress when the multibillion-dollar financial bailouts of 2008 occurred. Paul and Bachmann voted against the legislation.
Still, the approach taken suggests the Texas governor is more concerned with outpacing Paul, Bachmann, Santorum and Gingrich on caucus night than he is in defeating Romney.
The former Massachusetts governor, making his second try for the White House, has a well-funded and well-organized campaign nationally and in Iowa, as well as allies who are spending heavily on television advertisements through an independent organization known as a super PAC.
While others have periodically risen to challenge him, Romney has kept his support from seriously eroding in the polls, consistently remaining near the top.
A victory in Iowa does not necessarily translate into the Republican presidential nomination. Yet history suggests that contenders who finish farthest behind next week will quickly drop out, underscoring the significance of the struggle to emerge as Romney’s chief rival.