Republicans Battle for Iowa Bronze

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Mark Hirsch / AP

Republican presidential hopeful and former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson speaks in Manchester, Iowa, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2007.

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Giuliani's Iowa campaign, meanwhile, remains the most ponderous. For months, Giuliani has played hot and cold with the state, spending money on the ground but stopping short of making a full commitment, as his poll numbers have steadily declined. He has a paid staff of 12, on par with Huckabee's 14-person operation, and significant direct mail presence, but he has not backed up the campaign with any local television advertisements, and only occasional visits, including a two-day swing that will begin Friday. The campaign continues to try to lower expectations. "We feel very good about our position considering the amount of time and resources, including millions of dollars, that some other campaigns have outspent us in the state," says Giuliani's state spokesman Jarrod Agen.

No Amnesty Allowed

This is all good news for the Thompson campaign, which may find itself placing third because it upsets the party's base the least. While McCain spoke Thursday morning, Thompson did interviews with talk radio hosts who had gathered in Des Moines at the behest of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a group that supports a crackdown on illegal immigration. His new position on the issue is a substantial shift from last year, when Thompson said in a Fox News interview that it was not realistic to expel the roughly 12 million illegal immigrants who are here. "You're going to have to, in some way, work out a deal where they can have some aspirations of citizenship," he told Hannity and Colmes in April of 2006.

But his new position — no "amnesty," crack down on employers who break the law — has had little trouble earning credibility among the state's more hard-line immigration activists. Last week, the anti-immigration movement's standard-bearer, Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, dropped out of the race and threw his support to Romney. But on the ground in Iowa, most of Tancredo's support appears to have shifted to Thompson, including former U.S. Senate candidate Bill Salier, who was Tancredo's state campaign director, and Angie Weaver Anderson, who ran the western end of the state for Tancredo. "I don't know anybody who was with Tancredo who went with Romney," said King, after the last of the crowd had begun to filter out into the snow. "I have yet to find the first person."

All that said, there are no sure bets when it comes to handicapping the Iowa caucus. The polls continue to fluctuate, and it is still possible that either Huckabee or Romney could stumble their way out of the top tier. A poll released Friday by the Associated Press estimated that 40% of Republican primary voters had changed candidate allegiances since November. And that poll was taken before the Christmas holiday, when millions of Americans had a chance to talk politics with family around the dinner table. "If anybody tells you that they know how to do this caucus in 2007 and 2008, they are crazy," said Bob Haus, a veteran Republican consultant who is running Thompson's Iowa operation. "This is a paradigm in which none of us have ever operated before."

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