The dreams of all the declared candidates for the Republican presidential nomination – and of a couple not yet formally announced – are about to be burnished, dented or even dashed in a 48-hour blitz of campaign activity among the fried-butter stands and cow pens of the Iowa State Fair.
By nightfall tomorrow, the dust will be settling in Ames, Iowa, from a live televised debate arranged for yesterday evening and the results of the quadrennial Ames Straw Poll to be held on Saturday morning. It traditionally marks a first winnowing out of a field which already numbers eight contenders.
Equally diverting will be the off-stage gesticulations of two Republican stars: Sarah Palin and Texas Governor Rick Perry. By virtue of their dithering, neither was in the debate nor is registered for the straw poll.
Out of the blue, Ms Palin announced plans to crash the Iowa State Fair today on her putative campaign bus. She told supporters here she was "excited to try some of that famous fried butter-on-a-stick, fried cheesecake-on-a-stick, fried twinkies, etc". While she has so far done little here – or in any other state critical to the early parts of the nominating process – to convince anyone she is serious about running, her appearance will rekindle speculation about her intentions.
Governor Perry, who would compete for the same conservative votes as Ms Palin and Michele Bachmann, the Tea Party standard- bearer in Washington, is expected to confirm in South Carolina tomorrow that he has decided to join the race. He is due to pay his first visit to Iowa on Sunday.
"I'm very calm in my heart that this is what I'm supposed to be doing," he told Time magazine yesterday, confirming reports of his diving in. He said he made up his mind about 45 days ago after discussing it with his wife.
The stakes in Ames for all the Republican hopefuls are towering. Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, needs a strong showing to reverse the perception that his campaign is sputtering. Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and ambassador in China for President Barack Obama, needs a lift even more urgently. On the critical list meanwhile are Senator Rick Santorum, former speaker Newt Gingrich and businessman Herman Cain.
Mitt Romney, who is taking his second run at the nomination, must meanwhile consolidate his frontrunner status, while Ms Bachmann, who has come closest to challenging him, has to live up to the expectations that have built around her since shining in the last Republican debate two months ago in New Hampshire.
"We'll look back on this in about five months and the field won't look anything like it does now, because some people will have risen to this moment," Republican strategist Alex Castellanos told Politico. "This is the beginning of the real campaign here."Reuse content