'This Week' Transcript: Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann

TAPPER: Now let's bring in two reporters who've spent the past few days chasing candidates across the Hawkeye state, my friends, ABC senior political correspondent Jon Karl and Radio Iowa's O. Kay Henderson. Happy new year, guys. I'm going to start right with Jon.

Jon, you've been covering the Iowa caucuses since 1996. What strikes you as different about this one?

KARL: We've never seen one that has been so up and down, Jake. I mean, think about it. Look back. Six different candidates at one point or another held the lead or were tied for the lead here in Iowa. Every single one currently in this race has been on top, with the exception of one, and that's Rick Santorum, and he's the guy coming up now. This thing is wide open. And that makes it, frankly, a lot of fun to cover.

TAPPER: And, Kay, you've covered every Iowa caucus since 1987- '88. I'm interested to know, you see Mitt Romney for the second time. He campaigned last time, and -- and he won the straw poll, came second in the Iowa caucus. Now he's trying again for a win. Is he any different now than he was as a candidate four years ago?

HENDERSON: He is, indeed. He's a much more confident candidate on the stump. There have been several instances where he's shown that confidence. He also stuck to a campaign strategy that I don't think many people would have stuck to if they hadn't had the experience of having run before.

The other thing about this campaign is it reminds me a bit about 1996. The irony for me is the people who are running Romney's campaign on the ground here were running Lamar Alexander's operation in Iowa in 1996. So they know what it's like to be facing surging candidates at the end, and this may well turn out to be 1996 all over again, where Bob Dole eked out a victory, Pat Buchanan was in the second place, and Lamar Alexander got that third ticket out of Iowa.

TAPPER: And, Jon, Kay just talked about Romney's strategy in Iowa. It has been a muddled message of whether he's competing or whether he's not competing. What has been the reality of Mitt Romney's strategy in the Hawkeye state?

KARL: Well, Romney made -- you know, the campaign made much of being kind of hands off on Iowa, noncommittal. You remember they didn't compete in the Ames straw poll. There was a big question of whether or not they would actually really make a run in Iowa. But what I'm told is that Republicans here have noticed that Romney has had a subterranean campaign for a long time. If you went to Republican events around this state, going as far back as the summer, there would be Romney people there signing people up, getting names, getting phone numbers, getting addresses. Romney's had much more of a campaign in this state than he's let on, and now, of course, he is all-in.

TAPPER: Kay, we haven't had a debate in several weeks. I'm actually going through debate withdrawal, because we had them at seemingly every -- every day for several months, and now we haven't had any. But without the debates that clearly were hugely impactful on Iowa voters, how have voters been getting their information in the absence of these debates?

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