Today, Iowa kicks off the 2012 presidential race in earnest. As, you’ve no doubt heard by now, the Republican presidential contest is in a three-way dead heat: Mitt Romney, Ron Paul or Rick Santorum could all win the season’s first contest.
As The Des Moines Register found in its poll, the race is so unsettled “41 percent of those who have a first choice could still be persuaded to change their minds.”
Bottom line: It will be a dramatic night. Over at It’s All Politics, Mark put together a “quick guide” to the caucuses. They start at 8 p.m. ET. Some results should start coming in within the hour. It’s All Politics will also have exhaustive coverage of Iowa.
Yesterday, the candidates fanned out across the state making their final pitches to caucus goers. Romney, who has polled at the top of the field consistently, sounded confident. As The New York Times reports, the former Massachusetts governor “dropped all humble pretense and proclaimed, ‘We’re going to win this thing.'”
Rick Santorum, however, has been the surprise in the race. The former Pennsylvania Senator, has emerged from the bottom of the field two weeks ago to a contender. As the Times reminds us, that’s exactly the kind of race this has been:
“Who, five months ago, would have predicted that Herman Cain was going to hold a lead in the polls before evaporating? Newt Gingrich was up, then down, then up again; now he is down again.
“And Rick Santorum? Two weeks ago, he struggled to get a group of reluctant insurance company employees at a downtown Des Moines office building to stick with him as he spoke during their lunch break. The only warmth he received in the room was from the sweater vest that has come to define him. By Monday, his events were so jammed that a supporter fainted during an overcrowded campaign stop.”
So, as we wait for the caucuses this evening, we’ve rounded up some headlines about the final moments of the Iowa race:
— The New York Times talks to Iowa’s undecided voters who could sway the contest any which way.
— NPR’s Ken Rudin takes a look at the field.
— The Washington Post lists six counties to watch.
— Politico says the most important question of the night will be how Mitt Romney performs.
— Do the Iowa caucuses matter? CBS News argues they are “overhyped” and just don’t represent the electorate at large. “A total of 119,188 people participated in the 2008 Iowa Republican caucuses,” they report. “That’s about 20 percent of Iowa’s registered Republicans, 4 percent of the population of Iowa, and .04 percent of the total U.S. population.”