Phoney war ends with Republican race still wide open

At the conclusion of the GOP's last debate, there is still no clear front-runner who can unite the party

With the final debate before the Iowa caucuses behind them, the Republican candidates for the US presidential nomination prepared to shift yesterday from phoney war to fully-fledged battle amid entirely mixed omens as to who will be the last person standing to take on Barack Obama next year.

On stage for their final televised encounter in Sioux City, Iowa, on Thursday, they managed, if anything, to make predicting the outcome even harder. Voting begins with the Iowa caucus on 3 January, followed in short order by primary elections in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.

Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who in recent days has surrendered the pole position to one-time Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, emerged from the debate more or less unscathed and received a significant boost last night with a personal endorsement from the Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, who, importantly, is beloved by the Tea Party.

All the signs are that this nomination race may become a drawn-out affair with no one amassing the necessary numbers of delegates from primary voting states until well into the spring. While all eyes now are on Mr Romney and Mr Gingrich, others could quickly scramble the mathematics, including Ron Paul, the anti-war libertarian from Texas.

The dress rehearsals over, the pressure on the Republicans to avoid snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is greater than ever. On the one hand they feel they have a real chance to oust Mr Obama next November, but on the other they just don't seem to be able to decide who they want to do it for them.

That sense of tantalising possibility was underscored by a new Associated Press poll showing that for the first time Americans are divided as to whether Mr Obama will get a second term. Worse for the incumbent, 52 per cent of adults said they did not not want to see him stay in the White House and only 43 per cent said he deserved four more years.

The most important dynamic in the coming weeks will be the extent to which Republican primary voters, who will tend towards the conservative wing, will segregate their intellectual assessment as to the electability of each of the candidates from their emotional responses to them. This most directly affects Mr Romney, who may be the sensible choice to take on Mr Obama but who leaves most conservatives cold.

It is also the issue that is likely to halt the Ron Paul train, even if the passengers on it remain vocally enthusiastic. Indeed he may have put the buffers on the line himself at the debate in Sioux City when he almost yelled his opposition to the US-led campaign to pressure Iran not to acquire nuclear weapons, arguing that sabre-rattling, which could lead to war, is why the Islamic world hates America.

The argument puts Mr Paul to the left of almost everyone on the foreign policy landscape in America, and many conservatives will be appalled. "To declare war on 1.2 billion Muslims and say all Muslims are the same, this is dangerous talk," he ventured. "Yeah, there are some radicals. But they don't come here to kill us because we're free and prosperous... They want to do us harm because we're bombing them."

The electability question also stalks Mr Gingrich, who was described by Mr Romney this week as "zany". He came under scorching criticism on the debate stage, notably from Mr Paul and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, for his work over the past decade as a consultant to the government mortgage agency Freddie Mac, for which he collected $1.6m in fees.

Not to be overlooked is Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas, who offered the best crowd pleasing line when he compared himself to Tim Tebow, the Denver Broncos quarterback who, after being criticised before the start of the football season for being ill-prepared and sub-par, has emerged with one of the best records of any player. Watch out, Mr Perry said, because he would be the "Tim Tebow for the Iowa caucuses". We will see.

Sport
The sun rises over St Andrews golf course, but will it be a new dawn for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club?
sportAnd it's Yes to women (at the R&A)
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Sport
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
footballToure's lack of defensive work is big problem for City
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Food Technology Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week