Jockeying Continues Ahead of Volatile Iowa Race

January 1, 2012 Updated: January 1, 2012

The GOP presidential race for the state of Iowa has not let down amid the holiday season, as contenders continued campaigning throughout the weekend, with former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) being the only exceptions. Huntsman is focusing his campaign efforts on the New Hampshire primaries, while Paul decided to spend the holidays with his family.

The Iowa poll released Saturday by the Des Moines Register showed a tight, volatile three-way race for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Congressman Ron Paul, and former Sen. Rick Santorum. Romney has 24 percent of likely Republican caucus voters, while Paul is at 22 percent.

Santorum, despite polling third place at 15 percent support among likely caucus voters, has experienced a dramatic late surge during the days the poll was conducted. At this point, he is seen as the favorite evangelical candidate over Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who is at 11 percent; and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who is at 7 percent.

Former front-runner Newt Gingrich, who led the Iowa poll as recently as a month ago, has fallen back to 12 percent support among likely GOP caucus goers.

As a reminder that there is still much uncertainty only a few days ahead of the Iowa caucus 41 percent of respondents to the poll stated that they had a first choice but could be persuaded to change their minds to support a different candidate. Fifty-one percent of respondents had made up their minds.

As primary season opens up, Republican voters will be forced to choose between “their head and their heart,” as Romney, who is considered the safe GOP establishment pick, battles against candidates who are perceived to be more conservative, such as Gingrich, Paul, and Santorum. Romney is also considered the heavy favorite in the New Hampshire primaries.

Romney’s campaign is still touting him as the strongest Republican candidate capable of beating President Barack Obama in a general election.

“This is a process not just of putting your name or your hand next to someone who you kind of like. It’s also selecting who our nominee ought to be, who you think could beat Barack Obama, who you think can get the 1,150 delegates it takes to become our nominee,” said Romney to a crowd of supporters last week. “So look at the candidates and decide who you like and decide who also could become president and who could lead the country at a time of challenge.”

This contrasts sharply with the rhetoric of candidates like Santorum, who is urging voters to adhere to their conservative values.

“I understand they’re all saying who can win and cannot. Trust your own heart. Trust your head. Trust your gut. And vote for who you think is best,” said Santorum in a speech on Saturday.

The Iowa caucuses, which will take place on Tuesday, Jan. 3, will kick off the official start of the delegation-selection process for the 2012 presidential election.