DES MOINES - For the next seven days, they'll be crisscrossing cornfields, popping into diners, pressing the flesh and offering parting words to voters who are first in line on the presidential nominating calendar.
Six Republican candidates are all vying for one of the top tickets out of Iowa, which holds its caucuses one week from today, and we've got some questions for them as we count down the days until Jan. 3:
-Will Newt Gingrich really go negative? Gingrich's campaign sent out a nasty press release yesterday in which the campaign's communications director asked, "Can we trust a Massachusetts Moderate to enact a conservative agenda?" But so far it's unclear how this will translate on the trail. Despite his earlier promises not to go negative, will Newt really start to engage Romney? And if he does, how will be able to explain his change of heart after spending much of the campaign lecturing the rest of the GOP field on the Republican's 11th Commandment - to not speak ill of a fellow Republican?
Meanwhile, before he gets to take his swings at Romney, Gingrich is going to have to explain a 2006 memo unearthed by BuzzFeed's Andrew Kaczynski in which the former House Speaker praises Romney's Massachusetts health care plan and the individual mandate. "Massachusetts leaders are to be commended for this bipartisan proposal to tackle the enormous challenge of finding real solutions for creating a sustainable health system," Gingrich wrote back then. http://abcn.ws/tBRzc2 Awkward, to say the least.
-Speaking of Mitt Romney, when will he finally acknowledge what seems obvious to the rest of us - that he's "all in" in Iowa? Though he has taken a more hands-off approach to the state than some of his rivals, he's launching a three-day bus tour of Iowa today, his campaign rolled out a new television ad aimed at sealing the deal with Hawkeye State voters on Monday and one of his advisers went so far as to tell New York Magazine's John Heilmann, "I don't see any scenario where we're not the nominee." http://bit.ly/tRBMC4 So what happens if Romney doesn't come in first here? Or second? Or, more importantly, what if he finishes behind Gingrich?
-Can Ron Paul hold on? The controversy over his incendiary newsletters from decades ago isn't abating. Since his last presidential go-around, Paul has cultivated committed constituency that's not going to abandon him, rain or shine, and no matter what stories the national press prints about him. But, it may limit his appeal to those Iowans still shopping for a candidate.
-Can Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum or Rick Perry sneak into the top three? No one has poured more effort into the state than these three contenders, and they are on a mad dash toward the finish line. Bachmann is holding events in 10 different Iowa cities today alone. Santorum and Perry have been maintaining schedules almost as rigorous, and all three campaigns are buying up all the air time they can afford on television and on the radio. At this point, however, there's little evidence that it's paying off.
-When are we going to see some traditional polling in Iowa? The answer may be: soon. A plugged-in GOP source reminded The Note: "Four years ago, 14 public polls were released after the 25th and before Caucus Day." Some reputable media polls out this week will help us gauge what race really looks like. Is Paul really ahead? Has Newt fallen behind Romney? What about the big-spending Perry campaign?
Countdown to Iowa! On "Good Morning America" today, ABC's Jonathan Karl took a look at the lay of the land in the first-in-the-nation caucus state: http://abcn.ws/u12nhx and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus weighed in on the GOP field: http://abcn.ws/sUzJ4J
GOOD MORNING IOWA. Don't forget to check The Note blog every morning for the latest edition of "Good Morning Iowa" - a one-stop-shop tip-sheet covering everything you need to know from the Hawkeye State. Expertly reported by ABC's Shushannah Walshe.
DISPATCHES FROM THE TRAIL. Also, keep an eye on our new political website OTUSNews.com ( www.Otusnews.com) The Note ( http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/the-note/) and on ABC News/Politics ( http://abcnews.go.com/politics) for rapid-fire updates from the campaign trail between now and the Iowa Caucuses. Follow our reporters in the field on Twitter:
Michele Bachmann : ABC's Russell Goldman ( @GoldmanRussell)
Newt Gingrich : ABC's Elicia Dover ( @EliciaDover)
Jon Huntsman and New Hampshire: ABC's Susan Archer ( @TheOnlyArcher)
Ron Paul : ABC's Jason Volack ( @Jason_Volack)
Rick Perry : ABC's Arlette Saenz ( @ArletteSaenz)
Mitt Romney : ABC's Emily Friedman ( @EmilyABC)
Rick Santorum and Iowa: ABC's Shushannah Walshe ( @shushwalshe)
MEANWHILE, IN NEW HAMPSHIRE: JON HUNTSMAN LAUNCHES 'RESTORING TRUST TOUR' Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman decided months ago not to compete in Iowa, and while the vast most of the action on the campaign trail this week will take place a thousand miles away, Huntsman will have New Hampshire almost all to himself. He'll be trying to capitalize on that by campaigning in all of the Granite State's 10 counties between Wednesday and the Jan. 10 primary on what his campaign is billing as a "Restoring Trust" tour. "No other candidate is working New Hampshire as hard as Jon Huntsman and the importance of such hard work will be clearly seen on Primary Day," Huntsman's spokesman Tim Miller predicted.
-Over the weekend, Rick Perry tweeted this picture of a Christmas tree/cactus in his yard with the message "Merry Christmas from Texas. What an incredible gift we have been given!" http://t.co/FyO0hZQc
-Mitt Romney spent the holiday weekend in Belmont, Mass., with his wife Ann and their eldest son Tagg and Tagg's family.
GINGRICH TOPS ROMNEY IN LATEST POLL. "Newt Gingrich's lead over rival Mitt Romney narrowed to three percentage points in Gallup's latest national Republican tracking poll. Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, the former speaker garners 26 percent of the vote, compared with 23 percent for Romney. That has narrowed sharply from the 15-point lead Gingrich enjoyed in early December," reports ABC's Huma Khan. "Texas Rep. Ron Paul trailed behind the two, with 12 percent of the vote. Texas Gov. Rick Perry had 8 percent and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman polled last with 1 percent. Gingrich surpassed Romney in Gallup's poll in mid-November. Unlike other candidates who surged and then fell, the former congressman from Georgia has maintained his lead. He is the favorite to win the Iowa caucus next week but Romney remains the favorite in New Hampshire, according to a Boston Globe poll released earlier today." http://abcn.ws/t3Oc3q
IOWA CAUCUSES: WHAT TO EXPECT. "Even if turnout far exceeds projections, only a small percentage of Iowa's 3 million residents will participate in the event that plays an outsized role in determining which Republican candidate will face off against President Obama in November - and possibly lead more than 300 million Americans over the next four years," Real Clear Politics' Scott Conroy notes. "There are 1,774 precincts in this year's caucuses, and many of the state's rural outposts will see just a trickle of participants. On the other hand, some of the more populous counties combine their precincts into one location, which means that thousands of caucus-goers will gather at a single location. … The caucuses begin at 7 p.m. Central Time, but Iowa GOP officials and the campaigns themselves encourage voters to show up early, since the process typically starts on time. Michele Bachmann's website, for instance, directs supporters to be at their caucus precincts by 6:30 p.m. and does not mention that the event actually begins a half-hour later. After a few minutes of procedural business, the captains will move on to the main event: the Presidential Preference Poll." http://bit.ly/sPK2CM
FACT CHECKING RON PAUL. The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler and Josh Hicks pen what they say will be "the first in a series of four columns this week examining how factual Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) has been in describing his career in politics." The first explores the racist newsletters published in his name years ago, and the authors conclude: "Paul offers implausible explanations for why so many derogatory statements made it into his publications, insisting he knew nothing about them. It's hard to believe that a man who wants to oversee the entire U.S. government - albeit a smaller version - would provide zero oversight of his publications, or even bother to read them from time to time. The Texas congressman has to take responsibility for the newsletters that bear his name, or at least acknowledge negligence as the former head of the company that produced them. He earns three Pinocchios for failing to do so." http://wapo.st/sWuqfx
ROMNEY GETS 'A LITTLE HELP FROM HIS FRIENDS' "Mitt Romney's four-day Iowa visit this week will include a big speech and a team of big names fanning out around the state on his behalf," the Des Moines Register's Jennifer Jacobs writes. "Not only will his wife, Ann, join him on his bus tour, but his sons Josh, Craig and Matt, campaign aides said this afternoon. Several well-known GOP politicians - including Chris Christie and John Thune, who were talked up earlier this year as possible presidential candidates themselves - will either be on the bus tour or at separate events throughout Iowa, said David Kochel, Romney's Iowa campaign consultant. … Christie, the governor of New Jersey and a conservative popular with Iowa Republicans, has already campaigned here once for Romney, as has Thune, a U.S. senator from neighboring South Dakota who has clout with western Iowa conservatives. Also on the stump for Romney in Iowa this week will be Jim Talent, a former U.S. senator from Missouri; Norm Coleman, a former U.S. senator from Minnesota; U.S. Reps. Aaron Schock of Illinois and Jason Chaffetz of Utah; and former Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt." http://dmreg.co/vLMnfA
RICK SANTORUM GETS GRILLED. A dispatch from ABC's Shushnanah Walshe: "Just over a week before the Iowa caucuses, Rick Santorum stood next to a coveted endorsement he did not receive while being grilled about one he did nab last week. The day after Christmas, Santorum went pheasant hunting with Iowa Rep. Steve King, who has yet to back a candidate although Iowans will caucus on Jan. 3. The two held a press conference afterwards, but King did not endorse Santorum or anyone and instead said it was just a hunting trip with a "friend." "I came here to shoot pheasants today with my friend Rick Santorum and we are having a great, great day. I'm going to deliberate on all of this and I've got a few days yet before a decision has to be made," King said. When asked if he was leaning towards the candidate he was standing next to, King joked, "Yes," before physically leaning toward Santorum, adding he would "prefer to not discuss" a possible endorsement because he wanted to "enjoy the day." http://abcn.ws/uaOrj4
AS THE COUNTY GETS POORER, CONGRESS GETS RICHER. "When Representative Ed Pastor was first elected to Congress two decades ago, he was comfortably ensconced in the middle class. Mr. Pastor, a Democrat from Arizona, held $100,000 or so in savings accounts in the mid-1990s and had a retirement pension, but like many Americans, he also owed the banks nearly as much in loans. Today, Mr. Pastor, a miner's son and a former high school teacher, is a member of a not-so-exclusive club: Capitol Hill millionaires," reports The New York Times' Eric Lichtblau. "That group has grown in recent years to include nearly half of all members of Congress - 250 in all - and the wealth gap between lawmakers and their constituents appears to be growing quickly, even as Congress debates unemployment benefits, possible cuts in food stamps and a 'millionaire's tax.' … Largely insulated from the country's economic downturn since 2008, members of Congress - many of them among the '1 percenters' denounced by Occupy Wall Street protesters - have gotten much richer even as most of the country has become much poorer in the last six years, according to an analysis by The New York Times based on data from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research group. Congress has never been a place for paupers. From plantation owners in the pre-Civil War era to industrialists in the early 1900s to ex-Wall Street financiers and Internet executives today, it has long been populated with the rich, including scions of families like the Guggenheims, Hearsts, Kennedys and Rockefellers. But rarely has the divide appeared so wide, or the public contrast sostark, between lawmakers and those they represent." http://nyti.ms/tSH75f
OBAMA IN HAWAII: AN ACTIVE DAY IN PARADISE. "President Barack Obama enjoyed an active day of vacation in his home state of Hawaii, starting off yesterday morning with a workout at the Kaneohe Marine Base," reports ABC's Yunji de Nies. "The activity continued with a hike with family and friends at the Lanikai Pill Box trail. Located on the Windward side of Oahu, the trail is a named for the abandoned pill boxes, or military bunkers, that dot the summit facing the ocean. Originally these structures were strategic observation posts used by the U.S. military during World War II, to guard against a possible Japanese invasion. After a 45-minute hike, the group returned to the family's luxury vacation rental in Kailua and the president then headed back to the Marine base, this time to hit the links." http://abcn.ws/sSzt84
@ jmartpolitico : Why IA matters: the decisions by candidates to stay in or drop out after caucuses has big impact on race. Ask Huck
- Mitt Romney begins the day today meeting with voters in Londonderry and Portsmouth, New Hampshire before he gives a speech in Davenport, Iowa, where he is expected to lay out his closing argument to Iowa voters before the Caucus exactly one week from today. He begins a three-day bus tour in eastern Iowa on Wednesday.
- Newt Gingrich begins his Iowa bus tour in Dubuque today with additional campaign stops Tuesday in Dyersville and Decorah.
-The Iowa bus tours of Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry both resume today after the Christmas break in Council Bluffs. Bachmann makes a total of 10 campaign stops today to continue her attempt to get to all 99 counties before the caucus. Perry will make additional stops in Clarinda, Creston and Osceola.
- Rick Santorum today holds town halls today in Fort Dodge and Mason City and will tour a bakery in Cedar Falls before ending the day with a campaign rally in Waterloo, Iowa.
-ABC's Greg Croft
Check out The Note's Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV
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