Despite being perceived as the so-called “target” going into the presidential candidate debate in Des Moines last Saturday, Newt Gingrich was not only able to hold his ground, but also faced relatively few direct attacks from his main rival, Mitt Romney (or others).
One attack that may have gained some traction, however, is Michele Bachmann’s clever grouping of Gingrich and Romney as “Newt Romney.” If Bachmann is able to continue such rhetoric and land a few more notable phrases in the Fox News debate on Thursday in Sioux City, she may be able to turn in a surprise showing on caucus night.
Poll after poll has shown that many Republicans are reluctant to support Mitt Romney. The “$10,000 bet” and the line about not “growing up poor” most likely did little to persuade undecided middle-class Republicans to support Mitt’s campaign.
What does this mean for Thursday’s debate and beyond? Should Bachmann put in another strong performance in Sioux City, she may have a legitimate shot at finishing third on caucus night.
In order to do this, however, Bachmann needs to continue to direct her criticisms toward Mitt Romney.
Republicans seemed to have coalesced around Newt Gingrich more than any other candidate to date. Newt is now viewed as a viable alternative to President Obama as well as far and away the most qualified to be president. Ron Paul’s supporters are passionate and will be out in force regardless, and his libertarian policy stances simply do not align with Bachmann’s.
But time and again, Republican voters have expressed skepticism about Romney. Bachmann would be wise to capitalize on this skepticism and come with a full scale attack on Thursday directed at Romney’s “questionable” policy stances.
And let’s not forget the location of the debate. Sioux City is in the heart of where many socially conservative voters reside, and also part of western Iowa known as “Steve King land.” Should Bachmann do well, she may be able to persuade or bring back many of these voters, as well as force Congressman Steve King to take a second look at making an endorsement prior to January 3, 2012.
Bachmann also needs to make some noise in order to clear some distance from her nearest rival, Texas Governor Rick Perry. A Hawkeye Poll released on Monday shows Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann within 2 and 3 percentage points, respectively, of Ron Paul for third place (behind Gingrich and Romney).
Bachmann and Perry have both had their share of gaffes and awkward moments during the course of the campaign. And while such mistakes are perceived as similar in nature (both are perceived to be the result of an inability to clearly grasp complex issues), Perry has the financial and organizational capacity to make the race competitive.
Thursday night needs to be the second coming out party for Michele Bachmann if she is to extend her campaign beyond New Hampshire.