AMES — Iowa Republicans got a taste of some aggressive interplay from their field of presidential candidates in a televised debate Thursday night. Now the intrigue will be how that translates into support when they cast ballots on Saturday, the state’s GOP leader said.
“I’d like to say that most of the activists I talk to are at the dating phase when it comes to the candidates they’re talking to, not the marrying stage, so it’s still early in the process,” said Matt Strawn, chairman of the Republican Party of Iowa. “It’s still a very fluid race. I think for the first time in a long time there’s probably more uncertainty over what the ultimate finish will be in Ames. I think people are deciding even at the last minute who to support.”
Supporters and managers of the various campaigns emerged with predictable optimism after the two-hour televised debate held on the Iowa State University campus. Participants included Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Georgia businessman Herman Cain, former House speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, said he was pleased by the performance of his father, Ron Paul, who is expected to be among the top-tier finishers in Saturday’s Iowa GOP straw poll and had a vocal backing among the crowd at C.Y. Stephens Auditorium.
“I think he stirred it up quite a bit,” Rand Paul said. “I think he’ll be a force to contend with on Saturday.”
Kent Sorenson, an Indianola state senator who heads Bachmann’s Iowa campaign, said he believed she bolstered her front-runner status heading into Saturday’s balloting.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said he thought Romney helped himself with his answers on the health-care issues and Santorum “got in a lot of points” by being aggressive in his answers and his positions.
“I think it’s pretty clear that any one of them is strong enough to beat (President Barack) Obama,” Grassley said. “I think any one of those candidates could be elected president of the United States.”
But asked to predict the outcome of Saturday’s straw poll, the senator said, “If I knew what was going to happen Saturday, I’d put some money on it.”
Most of the candidates actively competing in the straw poll are slated to make campaign stops at the Iowa State Fair today.
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