It’s not about finishing first in the GOP Iowa caucuses – they already realize that is a prize that will evade them. But for all of the planning and hundreds of thousands of man-hours that have gone into preparing for the caucuses, the campaigns of Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann will hinge significantly on what type of send-off Iowa voters give them Tuesday evening.
What all three have in common is that at one time or another, each could lay claim to front-runner status – first Bachmann, then Perry and finally Gingrich. Unfortunately, the other common thread that binds the trio together is none could stay at the top long enough to push Mitt Romney off for very long.
So what comes next for Bachmann, Gingrich and Perry?
“Probably South Carolina or home,” said Kyle Kondik of The University of Virginia Public Policy Institute. “We may not see anyone get out in the next few days because there are two debates this weekend, but sooner or later the lack of money and manpower will force one or two of the GOP candidates out.”
After Iowa, New Hampshire comes next but none of the three plan to make much of an appeal to the type of Republican that the Granite state produces, instead heading to South Carolina where Republicans tend to embrace the social issues that each tend to espouse.
“South Carolina is probably the most important test for the more conservative candidates,” Kondik said. “If they can’t stop Mitt Romney in South Carolina, then they’ll have a difficult time doing it anywhere else.”
Iowa native and Minnesota Congresswoman Bachmann may have the most to lose in Iowa. After an impressive straw poll victory in Iowa, Bachmann’s high poll numbers seemed to evaporate overnight as she now shows up at the lower end of most national polls. The latest Gallup poll has her at 5 percent, only above former Utah governor Jon Huntsman who is at 2 percent.
Bachmann’s only hope may be a fourth-place finish, but if the polls in Iowa are even close, that means she’ll have to beat both Gingrich and Perry, which is unlikely.
Not having spent much time in South Carolina, Bachmann would have to build an organization from scratch and on a shoestring budget. Speaking of which, she would be forced to spend valuable campaign time making fundraising calls and hoping she can captivate the small and medium donors who are more willing to respond to online fundraising requests. Finishing strong in South Carolina is a must if her campaign is to survive.
The former Speaker of the House started the campaign at the bottom of most national polls and began a meteoric rise to the top after Herman Cain dropped out of the race in November.
However, Gingrich’s stay at the top has been interrupted by a barrage of attacks from his competitors and their Super Pacs, namely Mitt Romney’s. Gingrich is now saying that he is not expecting to win Iowa and that finishing fourth or fifth is enough to get him to South Carolina where he polls near the top of the pack.
“Gingrich would need to finish at or near the top in South Carolina to have much of a chance,” Kondik added. “He needs [Ron] Paul to stumble quickly.”
Because of his past marital indiscretions, Gingrich has struggled to win over a large evangelical following but his institutional knowledge of the federal government, combined with his large-scale ideas of fixing big government appeal to a cross-section of Republicans.
Unlike either Bachmann or Gingrich, Perry has the financial resources to stay in the race for a while longer.
Perry announced his candidacy on the same day that Bachmann won the Iowa straw poll in Ames and immediately flew to the top of the polls. However, a series of debate gaffs and unpopular positions on illegal immigration knocked the Texas governor off of his perch.
“South Carolina is where our real focus will be,” Perry said on MSNBC on Monday. However, Perry said he would be competing in the two New Hampshire debates this weekend.
But what Perry lacks in poll numbers, he makes up with in campaign cash due to a large base of mega contributors in Texas. Additionally, the Super Pac that is supporting Perry continues to be a significant part of his success.
“I’m the only one of the social conservatives and the fiscal conservatives that are running that actually has the ability to raise the money, to have the organization, to run through and finish the primary process,” he told MSNBC. “Santorum and Bachmann don’t and so we’re going to be able to go compete in South Carolina, in Florida and Nevada and obviously Texas.”