After months of talking and thousands of words, the Republican campaign in Iowa reached its terminal phase on Tuesday.
There was only time for insults.
“Ron Paul is disgusting,” former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum told a handful of Fox News reporters Tuesday morning. He was blaming Rep. Paul (R-Tex.) for automated phone calls in Iowa, which told voters that the vehemently anti-abortion Santorum was, instead, more supportive of abortion rights. Paul’s campaign did not immediately respond.
“Very liberal.” Paul said that Monday about Santorum, his main opponent in the long contest to be the conservative alternative to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Paul’s argument was that, while in the Senate, Santorum did too little to cut government spending.
A liar. That’s what former House speaker Newt Gingrich — still trying to be an alternative to all of the above — said about Romney on CBS’s “Early Show” Tuesday morning. He was sticking by a charge he’d made about Romney on Sunday, when he said, “somebody who will lie to you to get to be president, will lie to you when they are president.”
At last, there are only a few hours left.
On Tuesday night, Iowa Republicans will gather in 1,774 precincts around the state. They will listen to others--often, friends or neighbors--get up to advocate for candidates. And then they will vote by secret ballot.
Most caucuses should be over by 9 p.m. Eastern time. Final results should be in by 10:30 p.m. In that moment, Iowa’s long moment in the political spotlight will end--at least until the general election.
Tuesday dawned cold but clear in Iowa. Iowans thought snow would be Ron Paul weather, with only Paul’s devoted fans willing to trudge out in the flurries. But there was none.
As the day began, it still appeared that Romney, Santorum and Paul would finish in front. That would propel all three into the next nominating contests in New Hampshire and South Carolina--although Paul and Santorum still appear to be long shots to win the nomination.
In Des Moines Tuesday, a confident Romney held a rally that--as usual--focused on the shortcomings of President Obama.
Romney called Obama’s tenure “a failed presidency” and promised to turn the country around if given the chance. Recalling that Obama had said earlier that, if he didn’t fix the economy, he would be a one-term president, Romney said: “I’m here to collect. He’s out.”
In the end, the caucuses could alter the destiny of the losers, more than the winners.
Candidates at the back of the pack, like Gingrich, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), could face questions about whether they can continue in the race.
On Tuesday, Gingrich addressed midsized crowds in Muscatine and Burlington, making a last-ditch pitch to improve his standing in Iowa. Gingrich was worlds more energetic than he’s been the last few days--a sign he is recovering from a debilitating flu.
It was also clear that the “positive” message that Gingrich promised to stick with -- talking about his history bringing change to Washington, his fealty to Ronald Reagan and supply-side economics -- had been drowned out by the attacks against him.
“I kind of don’t like that deal with Freddie Mac,” said Don Roberts, 58, from Burlington, who said he is leaning toward Gingrich after listening to him Tuesday but has been affected by some of the messages in the ads. “We need a change, but I’m not sure Newt’s the guy to do that.”
But Roberts, a commercial fisherman on the Mississippi River, is even less likely to vote for Romney, he said: “He’s got way, way too much money to relate to a common person like me.”
Staff writer Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.