Mitts Off

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

The non-Romney Republicans had ten hours to stew over their abject failure to lay a glove on the Mittster in Saturday night’s lackluster prime-time debate. Nudged on Sunday morning by moderator David Gregory, who launched the proceedings by asking the aggrieved Newt Gingrich to make an argument against Romney’s electability, they came out with guns blazing at the Meet the Press debate. But it was almost certainly too little, too late, to bring down the frontrunner.

Mitt the Unassailed

AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Manchester, New Hampshire —Well, that was unremarkable.

The last presidential debate until another begins ten hours from now saw none of Mitt Romney’s challengers actually challenge him. His toughest challenge probably came from George Stephanopoulos, who asked him if his assertions on Bain Capital’s job creation were really on the level—neither Newt, Ron, Jon nor the two Ricks, confronted Romney with anything as potentially threatening to his lead.

One Strapped Santorum

AP Photo/Donald Traill

Manchester, New Hampshire—The fact that Rick Santorum doesn’t have much of an organization or an appreciable number of dollars has been increasingly apparent during the past several days in New Hampshire. Late yesterday afternoon, his campaign had scheduled a town hall in the back room of Belmont Hall, a modest restaurant in a working-class neighborhood of Manchester. The room was far too small for the crowd that turned out but everyone who’d turned out managed to squeeze in nonetheless.

Love Only Thy Neighbor

It's hard to keep a straight face when Rick Santorum says he is the most electable of the Republican candidates. "We need bold colors, not pale pastels," Santorum said last week in Iowa. "Ladies and gentlemen, be bold. Do not have a pyrrhic victory next November, where we elect a Republican, but we don't elect the person who can do what's necessary for America." He touts his experience winning in a swing state while maintaining his conservative credentials, an implicit ding against Mitt Romney's left-leaning record as governor of Massachusetts. It's a dubious claim for Santorum that's little related to reality considering he lost his last election by a historic 18 points.

Santorum the Moderate?

AP Photo/Elise Amendola

Windham, New Hampshire—Rick Santorum, the darling of the cultural-religious right, came here last night for a town-hall question-and-answer session with 500 eager listeners, only to find that his questioners were so far to his right that he was compelled to sound moderate by comparison. The disappointment— Santorum’s and the crowd’s—was mutual.

The Wrath of Newt

AP Photo/Eric Gay

Concord, New Hampshire—As the wrath of Achilles was kindled by the slaying of his best friend Patroclus, so the wrath of Newt Gingrich has been set ablaze by the slaying of his own best friend—his ego. Finishing a distant fourth not just to Mitt Romney but also to Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, after Romney’s Super PAC had run a brutal ad campaign against him, Gingrich was fairly blazing in his concession speech last night in Iowa. He not only declined to congratulate Romney but attacked him and his ads, making clear that he’d hang in the race if only to bring Romney down.

Bye Bye Bachmann

AP Photo/Chris Carlson

WEST DES MOINES, IOWA—Less than 12 hours ago, Michele Bachmann seemed determined to prove all the haters wrong and vowed to waste the next several weeks of her life in South Carolina. Turns out it was all a ruse to gather the media for one last headline-grabbing event.

Party Crasher

Rick Santorum supporters marked their candidate's surprise Iowa finish with a subdued celebration.

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

JOHNSTON, IOWA—The conference room at the Stony Creek Inn in this suburb of Des Moines isn't your typical setting for a winner's party. Then again, Rick Santorum isn't your typical successful politician. The candidate, who had languished at the bottom of the polls for most the year, rose meteorically over the last week before the Iowa caucuses and finished eight votes shy of first place last night.

Dude, Where's My Party?

Peterborough, New Hampshire—As the Republican Party continues its mad dash rightward, it’s good, if at times difficult, to remember that not every Republican has been swept along. Such Republicans haven’t been much in evidence in Iowa of late, but they were out in force in New Hampshire last night at a town hall for Jon Huntsman, whose platform makes clear he knows the radical right’s words but whose attitude is that of one who plainly refuses to learn the music.

Speaking one hour before the Iowa caucuses commenced, Huntsman directed barbs at both Republicans and Democrats. What was notable was that the crowd—several hundred well-heeled and –coiffed GOPniks and independents—responded chiefly—actually, only—to the barbs directed at their own side.

Paul on Track to Win Iowa

GRINNELL, IOWA—It looks as though we can safely dismiss a Santorum surge or a Perry reboot. For Romney, the polls hang steady just under a week before the Iowa caucuses, according to Public Policy Polling. Ron Paul maintains his lead over Mitt Romney by a 24-20 margin, statistically unchanged from the 23-20 percent gap last week. But Newt Gingrich's support has disappeared. The former House Speaker held a lead in the Midwestern state two weeks ago, but has now dropped down to third place at 13 percent, only slightly above Michele Bachmann at 11 percent and the two Ricks at 10 percent.

The Social-Conservative Frontrunner

FORT MADISON, IOWA—Rick Santorum's campaign staffers must have fallen asleep with smiles on their faces last night. The former Pennsylvania senator has spent more time than any other candidate visiting Iowa, yet he has struggled to gain traction in the polls even among the evangelical base that led Mike Huckabee to victory in the 2008 Iowa caucus.

A string of new endorsements from the state's evangelical leaders might have provided Santorum with just the boost he needs to move out of the bottom rung, but they also carry the risk of reminding voters of Santorum's history of incendiary comments against the LGBT community.

Could Santorum Be the Next Boom?

Rick Santorum secured the most coveted Iowa endorsement earlier today when Bob Vander Plaats lent his support to the former senator's presidential bid. Howeve,r the Family Leader—the organization he created at the start of the year—will remain neutral after the group's board members could not come to a consensus. Chuck Hurley, president of the anti-same-sex marriage Iowa Family Policy Center, also endorsed Santorum this morning. Since his group folded into the Family Leader at the start of the year, the combo's announcement operates as a de facto group endorsement.

Getting Gingrich's Goat

CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA—Newt Gingrich appears to have finally realized that debates might not be enough to win him the nomination. After leaving the state following last Thursday's debate, Gingrich returned to Iowa yesterday, hosting two events and announcing a 44-stop tour in the lead up to the January 3 caucus. That might all be too little, too late, as his most recent poll numbers have dropped after Gingrich skyrocketed to the top last month. The former House speaker’s opponents have worked together to take him down, with Ron Paul's campaign and a pro-Romney Super PAC overwhelming Iowans with commercials and mailers.

Gingrich's Campaign Finance Hypocrisy

Newt Gingrich returned to Iowa yesterday with a newfound distaste for Citizens United. Tapping into his inner Lawrence Lessig, Gingrich stumped against his opponents' Super PACs—primarily Romney's even if he doesn't recognize the name—for blitzing Iowa with a barrage of negative ads, such as this one: