With his vast trail of scandals and long list of enemies, Newt Gingrich is unlikely to win the Republican presidential nomination, even if he’s leading the polls. But if you were to imagine a path to the nomination for the former House speaker, it would begin in Iowa. A strong win in the Iowa caucuses would provide Gingrich with the momentum necessary to place well in New Hampshire (or win it, under the right circumstances). With the momentum of two primaries behind him, Gingrich would cruise to victory in South Carolina and Florida and finish January as the presumptive nominee.
Iowa is a must-have for Gingrich, which is why Ron Paul’s surge—he is tied with Gingrich in the latest survey from Public Policy Polling—is so dangerous. A Ron Paul win in Iowa would both derail Gingrich and help Mitt Romney as he navigates through the New Hampshire primary. In that sense, Paul is Romney’s greatest ally in the Republican presidential primaries. If Paul can keep Gingrich from building momentum, then Romney finishes January in a strong position, even if he underperforms in South Carolina and Florida; the February contests—Nevada, Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, Arizona, and Michigan—are far more friendly to Romney than they are to Gingrich or anyone else in the race.
It should be said that anti-Romney conservatives aren’t hopeless if Ron Paul clips the wings from Gingrich’s campaign; Texas Governor Rick Perry is working to improve his stock in Iowa, and conservative elites around the country are beginning to give him a second look. Most recent is conservative commentator Eric Erickson, who urged conservatives to reconsider Perry in a post at Red State:
If you were to look at the candidates on the Republican side, I suspect you might agree with me that the best person to put up against a man arguing that the government should pick winners and losers is the guy who grew up dirt poor on a farm without indoor plumbing who joined the military, served his country, became a farmer, and then got into government culminating in the most impressive job creation record of any Governor in America at this time. […]
I think, given the direction the Obama team intends to head with their campaign theme, we would be crazy not to reconsider Perry, given how effective his biography and life story would be combatting that theme.
If Perry performs well in Iowa, expect conservatives to tout him as the real alternative to Romney. Of the candidates, he’s still the best positioned to challenge the former Massachusetts governor.