Anything can-happen feel in Iowa's 2012 vote

By Thomas Beaumont

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Nov. 20 2011 8:30 a.m. MST

Like Cain, Gingrich returned to Iowa last week to find himself on the defensive over a number of issues, including the roughly $1.6 million he received as a consultant to Freddie Mac, the federally backed mortgage giant detested by conservatives. He found himself spending the bulk of his three-day trip trying to portray his history with the company as a sign of valuable experience.

"It reminds people that I know a great deal about Washington," Gingrich said. "We just tried four years of amateur ignorance, and it didn't work very well. So having someone who actually knows Washington might be a really good thing."

As the week ended, Gingrich introduced a website that collects, and provides answers for, what he long has claimed are myths about his background and explanations for policy position changes throughout the years. Among the issues Gingrich addresses are his admissions of adultery and divorce, topics likely to rile cultural conservatives in Iowa.

Paul, a Texas congressman, returned to the state at week's end to find that he was steadily drawing sizable crowds to restaurants and community centers in small towns such as Vinton and Anamosa, where audiences applauded his proposal to cut $1 trillion from the federal deficit his first year in office, primarily by vastly reducing U.S. foreign aid.

Long dismissed by the GOP establishment, the libertarian-leaning candidate is now turning heads beyond his hard-core followers four years since his failed 2008 bid. This year, he's running a more mature Iowa campaign and it's showing. He finished a close second to Minnesota Rep. Bachmann in August test vote, an indication of his stronger organization.

Texas Gov. Perry, trying to get back on track after a damaging few weeks that has affected his once-robust fundraising, is accelerating his already aggressive TV advertising schedule in Iowa and is making government reform, as well as assailing Obama, the cornerstone of his campaign in hopes of rebounding.

"Washington's broken, and needs a complete overhaul," Perry says in a new ad. "Replacing one Washington insider with another won't change a thing. If you want an outsider who'll overhaul Washington, then I'm your guy."

It's a message that has some sticking with Perry, despite his troubles.

"I haven't given up on Rick Perry, personally," said Hamilton County Republican Chairman Mark Greenfield, who supports Perry. "He's a lower-tier candidate now. But he's the one person who can turn the economy around if he can only clarify his message."

Bachmann, too, is fighting to come back with a second act after a blazing hot summer and a victory in the Iowa GOP straw poll. Some of her evangelical base has drifted elsewhere, but she's still focused on trying to get them to rally behind her like they did former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, the Iowa caucus winner in 2008.

"It is amazing to me how God uses those challenges to shape your life," Bachmann said of her parents' divorce, noting during the Saturday forum how it influenced her decision to be a foster parent to more than 20 children in addition to her five biological children.

The candidate who may stand to gain from Bachmann's inability to wrap up the evangelical vote is Santorum. The former Pennsylvania senator is the only Republican with staunch socially conservative credentials competing hard in Iowa who hasn't enjoyed a burst of support this year.

That's not for lack of trying.

He's essentially camped out in the state for months and has campaigned in all 99 Iowa counties on a shoestring budget.

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