U.S. Republican candidates get personal under the shadow of the Iowa caucuses
Former Speaker Gingrich calls Mitt Romney a liar, while Ron Paul calls Rick Santorum the worst name of all: 'Liberal.'
While President Barack Obama returned Tuesday morning from a holidays vacation with his family in Hawaii, six Republican presidential hopefuls started another exhausting day, packed with campaign events and interviews, winding up to the evening's speeches before the vote, and scrambling to convince the picky Iowan caucuses goers.
After months of "barnstorming" in Iowa, pledging to repeal the "Obamacare," accusing the president for "turning the U.S. into entitlement society," for apologizing to the world, and for "throwing Israel under the bus, "while promising to restore America's standing and the spirit, Republican candidates will pass their first test real tonight. At 7 P.M. central, and another 2 hours more hours, Iowa will open the primaries season that will last until June 26 in Utah.
The latest polls showed the trio of Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum tied in a tense race for the first place - with Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann trying to get enough votes to be able to stay in the race and get some donations pouring in.
The possible losers in the race each found their own way to deal with the unflattering numbers in the polls. One-time frontrunner Texas governor Rick Perry said he is "running a marathon," promising "to take America back” in West Des Moines on Tuesday.
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who won the Ames straw poll in Iowa in August, is trailing in the race, yet still compares herself to the British "Iron lady" former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, keeping a busy schedule with interviews on "Fox", "CNN", "ABC" and C-SPAN, as well as speaking (along Ron Paul and Rick Santorum) at 'Rock the Caucus' Student Assembly in West Des Moines, before giving speech at the Black Hawk County Caucus Super-Site in Cedar Falls, Iowa - and finishing the night at the West Des Moines Marriott event.
Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, who promised to run a positive campaign, took a jab at the presumable frontrunner - former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney in an interview to CBS, accusing him of not telling the truth about who is really behind the negative ads against Gingrich.
CBS White House correspondent Norah O'Donnell asked him: "Are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?"
"Yes," Gingrich replied. "You seem shocked by it! This is a man whose staff created the PAC, his millionaire friends fund the PAC, he pretends he has nothing to do with the PAC - it's baloney."
"He's not telling the American people the truth. It's just like this pretense that he's a conservative...... I don't think he's being candid and that will be a major issue. From here on out from the rest of this campaign, the country has to decide: Do you really want a Massachusetts moderate who won't level with you to run against Barack Obama who, frankly, will just tear him apart?" Gingrich asked.
Super-PACs, organizations, created following two lawsuits, basically allow unlimited donations - and pretty much any content (largely negative) to the candidates' supporters, - as long as they are not formally connected to the campaign. Their presence is a big game changer in the election, as the candidates can stay largely positive, allowing the Super-PACs to do the "dirty job" of attacking their rivals.
Talking to CNN, Gingrich blamed a "tsunami of negativity" on his decline in polls.
Romney, who prefers to focus on Obama, told "Fox" that Gingrich has the same troubles in polls in states where there has barely been any negative ads running, such as New Hampshire.
“The super-PAC that happens to endorse me has put some ads out. I can’t control those, as you know. We’re not allowed to have coordination between the campaign and these independent PACs," Romney said.
"If the speaker decides to come after me, why, that’s part of the process. If I can’t handle this kind of attack, why, how in the world would I handle the attack that’s going to come from President Obama? He added.
He said he understands "Newt must be very angry", but he wishes him well, adding: "He’s a good guy.”
Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who campaigns this week in Iowa with his son, Senator Rand Paul, chose to criticize former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who prides in being "the most conservative candidate" in this race. Talking to CNN, Paul accused Santorum of being "very liberal," because of his support of "government spending."
Meanwhile, Romney continued his attacks against President Obama (whose campaign brought to Iowa Randy Johnson, worker who was fired years ago when Romney's company bought the one he was employed at, to attack his lack of empathy toward workers), telling "Fox News" that Obama is "a president who lost more jobs during his tenure than any president since Hoover."
"This is 2 million jobs that he lost as President," adding that he, Romney, "helped create over 100,000 new jobs. We created more jobs in Massachusetts than this president’s created in the entire country. So if the President wants to talk about jobs, and I hope he does, we'll be comparing my record with his record and he comes up very, very short," Romney added.
Democrats, who abandoned this week's "shadow campaign" have been running in Iowa since last spring, stepped up their attacks against Romney with DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Iowa Congressman Bruce Braley Press Conference un Des Moines.
"We know that regardless of who comes out on top this evening, all of the Republican presidential candidates support the same failed policies of past," Wasserman Schultz said, going on to ridicule Romney's difficulty to cross the 25% ceiling.
"While Mitt Romney may have declared victory before the results come in, crawling over the finish line in Iowa after 5 years of efforts is coming at a price", she said, adding that "this is someone who’s been running for president for the past five years and has struggled to gain additional support, in Iowa or at the national level. We see that there is constantly an alternative candidate emerging – Bachmann, then Perry, then Gingrich and now finally Santorum"
"Romney and his allies spent more than $4 million tearing down Newt Gingrich, while only a fraction of that amount promoted Mitt Romney’s record. Iowa Republicans should ask themselves 'would Massachusetts really elect a conservative Republican Governor?' Romney’s entire candidacy is a charade," she said.
Wasserman Schultz said that Romney "turned into more shapes and forms than the wonder twins. Mitt Romney has made it clear he will say and do anything to get elected – and that includes trying to cover up previous moderate-to-liberal positions he took as a Massachusetts politician to make sure voters never know the truth about his record. Mitt Romney wouldn’t even disclose basic information that candidates in both parties have released as standard practice, like his tax returns, because he doesn’t want the middle class to know that he pays less taxes than they do."
Some points ahead of tonight's vote:
1. Who is not coming?
Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, who decided to skip Iowa and focus on New Hampshire. As he explained to CBS, “they pick corn in Iowa. They pick presidents in New Hampshire." On Tuesday alone, the former U.S. Ambassador to China will be holding five different events in New Hampshire.
2. How many Iowans will vote in the caucuses?
In 2008, approximately 120,000 Iowans voted. It is difficult to tell this year if the large percentage of undecided Republicans will bring more people out to vote – or less. Larger numbers will help benefit Mitt Romney, while a smaller attendance may strengthen Ron Paul, who had a devoted crowd of supporters.
3. Principles or electability?
The Tea Party enhanced the influence of the conservatives and brought to the forefront (especially during the debates) the rift between the party establishment and the newcomers. It prompted some to want that while the Tea Party will probably energize the elections - it might also diminish the GOP's chances to oust President Obama as some moderates may find certain candidates too extreme to vote for in the general elections.
Rick Santorum and Ron Paul urged the voters this week in Iowa to follow their heart and principles. Santorum said on Monday that "ten days ago, the polls said I was going to finish last. It doesn't matter. Polls change. Conviction shouldn't."
Ron Paul's son, Senator Rand Paul, stressed that his father draws the biggest crowds in Iowa, including young voters - and that he is the only candidate who can't be accused of flip-flopping.
4. Can Romney win?
Since the results of the Iowa caucuses do not necessarily predict the elections results, Romney probably shouldn't be worried about coming in first or second in Iowa. Even finishing third, will not spell an end to his campaign, although it can hardly be called "momentum". He is well aware of the fact that conservatives are not really in love with him, but up until now he was managed surprisingly well to survive the reality show-style surges of his rivals with a steady campaign, despite keeping a low profile in the press for many months. He has enough money and a strong organized campaign infrastructure, and he is not worried about the January 10 primary in New Hampshire, where he is well-known and enjoys steady support.
However, these elections have already provided some surprises so far - and if Romney is defeated and goes downhill, the reality show might continue with the independent candidate taking the lead at some point. The biggest loser then will probably be the serious debate on the proposed alternatives, which got lost amid the various "oops" moments.
And yes, there is no gender affirmative rules that apply to the presidential race, but it's quite a pity there is only one woman in this race - and even she is rendered irrelevant by the current polls.
5. What happens tomorrow?
Iowa caucuses might turn out to be more about the losers than the winners, but so far, the candidates’ schedules for the rest of the month suggest that no one intends to capitulate until at least the South Carolina primaries on January 21. Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney will continue to New Hampshire, whereas Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum will go on to South Carolina. Whatever the results, unlike the previous primary rounds, this time the Republican primaries will probably last longer - and become somewhat nastier.