On Final Day in Iowa, Front-Runners Play to Bases

On Final Day in Iowa, Front-Runners Play to Bases

By Erin McPike - January 3, 2012

MARION, Iowa -- As Mitt Romney completed his Iowa campaign four years ago, he was joined by a trio of senators from early nominating states, including Iowa's own Charles Grassley, New Hampshire's Judd Gregg and South Carolina folk hero Jim DeMint. (Only Gregg -- no longer a senator -- has endorsed him this time.)

On Monday, his final full day on the trail before Iowa Republicans caucus to choose their favorites, Romney's political companions on stage were South Dakota Sen. John Thune and Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz. Neither of the young politicians hails from a state early in the nominating process, and they aren't quite household names. But they do represent the future of the GOP -- and the political dialogue in Washington.

Romney is not of Washington, but he is of the establishment -- it's a difference without distinction that his campaign has struggled with all year. And yet, he's had a hard time consolidating support among the elites in the GOP until recently. Still, by campaigning with two younger Washington lawmakers and talking about some of the changes he would bring to government, he took on the identity, once again, of the party's nominee-in-waiting.

Compare that to the other two candidates with a chance at pulling off a victory in tonight's caucuses -- Ron Paul and Rick Santorum. Each trotted out surrogates who have helped influence recent elections dominated by a wave of conservative excitement and volatility.

Joining the Texas congressman on the trail Monday was his son, Rand, now the junior senator from Kentucky. Rand Paul was never supposed to be a senator -- Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had hand-picked Trey Grayson, then Kentucky's secretary of state, to fill the state's open Senate seat. But the younger Paul, by borrowing from his father's celebrity, became a tea party star and demolished Grayson in the primary. He went on to beat rising Democratic star Jack Conway in the fall of 2010 and has been a thorn in the side of the GOP's congressional leadership ever since.

Santorum, for his part, landed the endorsement of Jim Bob Duggar, an Arkansan and social conservative who has authored books and starred in a reality TV series with his 19 children. In 2008, he made hay over Romney's flip-flopped position on abortion, trailing him around the state in the final days before the Iowa caucuses. Duggar supported his home-state candidate, Mike Huckabee, in that election, and exerted a pull on religious conservatives and families who home-schooled their children. Huckabee, of course, won the caucuses but lost the nomination.

In a brief interview with RCP at the Pizza Ranch in Boone -- where Santorum campaigned midday Monday -- Duggar said he and his family have been praying about their choice in the GOP field for weeks and just chose Santorum. As a result, he and members of his family decided to make a surprise appearance in support of the candidate.

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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