BACHMANN: “Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is limping toward Tuesday's Iowa presidential caucuses,” the AP writes. “She's losing staff. She's faced calls for her to abandon her bid. And she has no money.” And: “[I]nstead of ending the exhausting sprint on a high note, Bachmann found herself facing a new reality: Rick Santorum was the conservative candidate whose standing was rising ahead of the caucuses, not her.” A day after losing a state campaign chairman, she lost her political director.
The Boston Globe’s Glen Johnson highlights more difficulties: “But as if to underscore the momentum she has lost, Bachmann had several uncomfortable pauses as she waited for audience questions after her speech. And later, during an appearance before mortgage brokers at the Iowa State House, she suffered another indignity: Bachmann walked in with a speech in her hand but no podium upon which to place it. As she delivered opening to a group numbering no more than 40, aides carried over a table and placed a platform atop it.”
GINGRICH: Rep. Steve King’s still not endorsing (yet), but he said he’d pick Gingrich over Romney (though he wasn’t without some praise for Romney). “Mitt Romney is a significantly better candidate than he was four years ago,” King told Newsmax. “He’s been campaigning now for five or so years for president,” King said. “If you want someone in charge that you’ll know the trains will run on time, Mitt Romney is the man that we have confidence in that he can do that.”
More: “He’s been consistent over the last four or five years, however, and the burden that he carries with him is his healthcare policy in Massachusetts makes it really hard for him to challenge Barack Obama on Obamacare,” King said. “And this race must be about a full 100 percent repeal of Obamacare. I give the nod to Gingrich in that particular contest.”
HUNTSMAN: He picked on Iowa yesterday for picking “corn” not presidents, but the Des Moines Register reminds Huntsman that New Hampshire actually only has picked the eventual nominee just one more time than Iowa has since 1976. It suggests Huntsman should instead focus on South Carolina, since its gotten every nominee right since 1980. But “If Huntsman makes a push there, he might want to lay off the tobacco jokes,” the paper writes.
The Boston Globe notes that as Huntsman has New Hampshire to himself for the next few days, he’s confronting skeptical voters, asking him about his viability as a Republican candidate -- if he’s considering an independent bid and why he didn’t get on the Virginia ballot. And: “According to the Associated Press, Huntsman said he may drop out if he does not finish in the top three in New Hampshire.”
PAUL: The New York Times: “This month, a wealthy Republican called up two officers who served as platoon leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan with a proposition: He would lend them his private jet, and they would fly around Iowa to Representative Ron Paul’s campaign events in the weeks before the Jan. 3 caucuses, telling reporters at each location that the congressman’s foreign policy and military positions were dangerous and naïve. The deal never came to pass. But it reflects both Republican establishment concern about his insurgent candidacy — polls now place Mr. Paul, of Texas, at or near the top of the pack in Iowa — and unease among many traditional Republican voters who support the party’s tougher line on national security."
PERRY: “It’s been a long 12 months for Rick Perry. The Texas governor started 2011 in triumph, at the peak of his political power, with a high gloss on his boots and a national audience of conservatives eager for just the tale he was telling,” The Texas Tribune writes. “He ends the year treading water. His boots — ‘Freedom’ and ‘Liberty’ — might as well be named ‘Oops’ and ‘Dang.’” Ouch.
“Explaining that he's ‘not a lawyer,’ Rick Perry on Wednesday said he was unfamiliar with the anti-sodomy case Lawrence v. Texas litigated in part during his time as governor of Texas,” NBC’s Carrie Dann reports.
The Texas Tribune: “The seminal civil rights decision overturned a Texas law that outlawed the practice of sodomy between homosexuals.” And: “Despite his failure to remember it today, Perry mentioned the case in his anti-Washington book, Fed Up! In the book's sixth chapter.”
ROMNEY: The AP’s Elliott: “Mitt Romney, watching as Republicans flail for a not-Romney alternative, is looking with optimism at Iowa, the state that rejected him four years earlier but now appears at least open to the possibility that he could be the GOP presidential nominee.”
The AP’s Hunt: “Romney's effort to come across as a man of the people” with talk of Ramblers and cross-country trips “has been anything but a smooth transition.” And that “he can still struggle to connect with people on a personal level.”
Examples: “One woman recently told him that she had to endure a five-hour commute to work because her company moved out of state. How could he help keep good jobs in Iowa, she asked. ‘Sometimes it's counterintuitive,’ replied Romney, a former businessman, explaining that businesses often invent new, more efficient ways to compete. ‘The term is called productivity. Output per person,’ he said. ‘Our productivity equals our income.’”
And: “When one retired firefighter in New Hampshire said he was drawing a reduced Social Security check because he also had a state pension, the former Massachusetts governor was less than sympathetic. ‘If there's a competition for who will give you the most free stuff, go vote for that guy.’ When the man said he wasn't asking for any handouts, Romney said, ‘You knew what you were getting into… I wish you well, but I'm not going to promise you more bucks.’” (Wow.)
Romney seemed to up the stakes in Iowa yesterday: When he “was asked by CNN whether finishing second after Ron Paul in Iowa could still be considered a win, Romney quickly responded, ‘Uh, no,’” Political Wire writes.
The New York Times adds, “With days left before voting begins in Iowa, Mitt Romney has fully embraced the state that spurned him four years ago, betting that heightened expectations for his performance at the Republican caucuses here on Tuesday will not undercut his chances of a strong start to the presidential nominating contests.”
Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) endorsed Romney.
SANTORUM: “Santorum's vehicle of choice is a supporter's heavy-duty pickup truck with an aide working in the back seat,” AP’s Glover writes. “Iowa's airwaves are filled with TV commercials. But Santorum's presence is much more restrained. That's largely a consequence of the fact that he can't afford much of one. And yet, Santorum's low-key, scaled-down approach appears to be working.”
Rick Perry attacked Santorum for requesting earmarks as a senator. Santorum’s response: "Absolutely I had earmarks while I was in the United States Senate. Look at the Constitution. Who has the responsibility to spend money? Please go take a look at my earmarks. Are there things in there I'm proud of? You bet there are.
More: "People say I voted for the 'Bridge to Nowhere.' I did! Who am I in Pennsylvania to tell Alaska what their highway priorities should be? You had a city that was separated from its airport. And of course in Alaska, you travel by air, and they had to have a ferry. Well there were times when they couldn't get across and so they built this bridge. I gave the benefit of the doubt to the people who have the expertise and knowledge about what's best for their state. Look at the Constitution. The Constitution says, 'roads.' So this is clearly a federal function." (hat tip: GOP 12.)