Ron Paul is in a position to pull off an upset in the Iowa caucuses in three weeks that would have serious ramifications for the Republican party elite.
Going into Thursday night’s debate – and the caucuses only 21 days away – probably the only person who thinks Newt Gingrich can meet the high expectations his recent poll and debate performances have set is Newt Gingrich.
The rest of the field, and political operatives, are getting ready for a scenario that just three months ago would have seemed as far-fetched as, I don’t know, Herman Cain being the front-runner: Ron Paul winning Iowa.
Among Iowa voters, Paul is the only candidate in the top tier (he’s in the top tier!) that has not seen his support rise precipitously and then erode. Paul is, in fact, the only candidate that has seen his support simply grow.
This solid base, combined with Paul’s Iowa organization – unlike Romney or Gingrich, he has one – put Paul in the position to pull an upset that has the potential to shake-up not just the 2012 race, but the way the GOP conducts its primaries for years to come.
Within the party, moderates and realists (these groups overlap but are not exactly the same) have been quietly making the case for years that Iowa’s caucus picks wind up hurting the GOP in general elections. Though the actual caucus winners are often the eventual nominee, the social conservatives who wind up doing well in Iowa (winner Mike Huckabee, and runner-ups Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson) reinforce stereotypes that younger Republicans especially would like the party to move away from.