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First Thoughts: One week to go

Where things stand one week before the Iowa caucuses… Why Gingrich’s inability to get on Virginia’s ballot matters… New Romney and Perry TV ads (and Gingrich goes after “Moderate Mitt”)… Breaking down the ad spending in Iowa… Fast facts about Iowa and the caucuses… And Obama (in terms of his approval rating) pretty much ends the year where he began it.


*** One week to go: Here’s where things stand in the GOP presidential race after the Christmas holiday and exactly one week until the Iowa caucuses: Mitt Romney remains the overall on-again/off-again front-runner, yet he’s vulnerable in Iowa if -- and it’s a big IF -- conservatives coalesce around one anti-Romney candidate. (“I don’t see any scenario where we’re not the nominee,” a senior Romney strategist told New York magazine.)… Newt Gingrich’s stock as the Romney alternative has nosedived, especially after his campaign was unable to get on Virginia’s ballot (the consequences of which we explain below)… Last week, Ron Paul emerged as the new Iowa front-runner, but racially charged newsletters bearing his name that appeared decades ago have recently dogged his campaign. (Don’t miss this New York Times headline from yesterday: “Paul Disowns Extremists’ Views but Doesn’t Disavow the Support.”)… And the latest Republican who appears to gaining momentum in Iowa is Rick Santorum.

*** Why Virginia matters: While Virginia awards only 49 delegates in the GOP presidential contest, Newt Gingrich’s inability to get on the ballot there -- despite holding events in the state to do just that and despite living there (!!!) -- was a huge blow to his campaign. Why? Because it reinforced this narrative that Team Romney has been trying to build for the last few weeks: that the Gingrich campaign isn’t built to go the distance with Romney (or even President Obama). What’s more, that particular news was the only political development over a slow Christmas holiday, which means that PLENTY of people heard about it. Meanwhile, Politico reports that a Richmond lawyer who used to serve as the Virginia Democratic Party chair is helping a conservative group challenge Gingrich’s exclusion from the Virginia ballot. 

*** New Romney and Perry ads: Heading into the final stretch in Iowa, Romney is up with a new TV ad in the Hawkeye State that highlights his conservative bona fides. That ad, per NBC’s Alex Moe, forced the Gingrich camp to respond with a press release – entitled “About Moderate Mitt’s Latest Ad” – noting a clip from Romney’s 2002 gubernatorial campaign in which he called himself “moderate” and “progressive.” Meanwhile, Rick Perry has a new TV ad, too, and it digs Michele Bachmann, Gingrich, Paul, and Santorum for their service in Congress. NBC’s Carrie Dann reports that controversial Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio will join Perry on his bus tour through Iowa today and tomorrow.

*** The ad-spending race in Iowa: By the way, here are the latest ad-spending totals for Iowa: Perry $4.4 million, Restore Our Future PAC (pro-Romney) $2.8 million, Ron Paul: $2.3 million, Make Us Great Again PAC (pro-Perry): $1.6 million, Romney $1.1 million, Gingrich $475,000, Citizens for a Working America (pro-Romney) $461,000, Red White and Blue Fund (pro-Santorum) $329,000, Citizens United (pro-Gingrich) $196,000, and Bachmann $166,000 (but hasn’t spent since August).

*** Fast facts about the Iowa caucuses: With the Iowa caucuses just a week away, we’re going to spend the next several days detailing key information about the contest. Today it’s a list of key fast facts:
-- In the modern caucus/primary system (post-1972), only one Republican non-incumbent candidate has won Iowa and gone on to win the presidency: George W. Bush (2000). When you add Democrats to the mix, only three candidates have won Iowa and the presidency – Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Barack Obama.
-- But John McCain, in 2008, was the only Republican to finish outside the top three in Iowa and still win the Republican nomination.
-- In Iowa’s 2008 campaign, Mitt Romney outspent all other Republicans combined (some $10 million), but still lost to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee by almost 10 percentage points, 34% to 25%.
-- Iowa is one of only two states that has switched parties in three-straight presidential elections: The Hawkeye State voted for Gore in 2000, Bush in 2004, and Obama in 2008. The other state to do this is New Mexico.

*** On the 2012 trail: As you might expect with just a week until the Iowa caucuses, it’s a busy day in the Hawkeye State: Bachmann, Gingrich, Perry, Romney, and Santorum all campaign in Iowa… And Romney has two events in New Hampshire before heading to the Hawkeye State.

*** Obama pretty much ends his year where he began it: While we never put much stock in the latest up and downs of the Gallup Daily Tracking poll (“live by the Gallup Daily Tracking, die by the Gallup Daily Tracking”), its latest numbers showing Obama’s approval rating above water confirm what the other national polls (WaPo/ABC, CNN) have recently shown. And these numbers suggest two things: 1) Obama ends the year pretty much where he started it, in the high 40s (before the Tucson shootings), and 2) he’s firmly out of the hole he found himself in after the bruising debt-ceiling debate.

Countdown to Iowa caucuses: 7 days
Countdown to New Hampshire primary: 14 days
Countdown to South Carolina primary: 25 days
Countdown to Florida primary: 35 days
Countdown to Nevada caucuses: 39 days
Countdown to Super Tuesday: 70 days
Countdown to Election Day: 317 days

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