US: Republican Presidential Contenders Face Iowa Test

January 2, 2012

U.S. Republican presidential contenders are making last-minute campaign pitches in the central state of Iowa before Tuesday's first electoral test to pick a nominee for next November's national election.

Voters in Iowa often do not crown the eventual presidential nominees for either Republicans or Democrats. But its first-in-the-nation caucuses can serve as a launchpad for political success in other states during the next several weeks of the candidate-selection process. The Iowa caucuses also serve to push weaker contenders out of the race.

Voter surveys indicate Mitt Romney, a former governor of the northeastern state of Massachusetts, has the lead in Iowa among seven Republican contenders seeking to unseat President Barack Obama, a Democrat. But Romney's opponents say he is not conservative enough to be the Republican nominee.

One candidate, former congressman Newt Gingrich, says the polls show voters in Iowa favor conservative over moderate candidates.

''I think it is pretty clear from the Des Moines poll that conservatives who want real change are going to get probably between 70 and 75 percent of the vote, and the only moderate establishment candidate is going to get 20 or 25 percent of the vote.''

Pre-caucus surveys in past few days show Texas congressman Ron Paul running a close second to Romney. The polling also has shown conservative, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum gaining momentum.

Other contenders seeking support in Iowa are Gingrich, Texas governor Rick Perry and Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann. The pre-caucus surveys have shown their support well below the top three. But a poll by Iowa's largest newspaper, the Des Moines Register, indicates 41 percent of voters have yet to make up their minds.

A seventh Republican candidate, Jon Huntsman, the former U.S. ambassador to China, has not campaigned in Iowa, instead pinning his hopes on a good showing in the northeastern state of New Hampshire, where voters will cast primary election ballots on January 10.

The Republican nomination contest has been among the most fluid ever in U.S. political history. One of the nation's most prominent polling companies says the lead in the nomination race has changed hands seven times since last May. It is the first time since 1964 the Republican party has had so many candidates in serious contention.

Mr. Obama is unopposed for his party's renomination, but he faces a difficult test to win another term. The nation's economy, the world's largest, has recovered sluggishly from the 2007-2009 recession, leaving many voters questioning his leadership.

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