Whatever happens in the Iowa caucuses, this year's contests have made plain that Republicans face a general election problem whoever the two parties' nominees are: an enthusiasm gap.
Democratic campaigns expect that 125,000 or more Iowans will turn out for their caucuses on Jan 3. Republican campaign expect half that. "Not a good sign" for the general election, one GOP Iowa campaign manager told me.
I could see that in watching the Republican debate in Des Moines yesterday with local business leaders. Moderate Republicans Brice Oakley and Terry Rich were uneasy about their party's field; so were more conventional Republicans Marilyn Jerome and Jim Goodman.
Rich was leaning toward Rudy Giuliani before the debate, but away from him and toward Mitt Romney afterward. Oakley thought Fred Thompson, once viewed as the white knight rushing to save the 2008 GOP, was "out of his league" in the competition. Goodman thought Huckabee made no mistakes in the debate but isn't sure he supports him.
Jerome is considering both Romney and Huckabee, but also says this: "For the first time...I'm looking at what some of the Democrats are saying and it makes good sense."
None of that means Republicans are destined to lose this swing state, which Bush carried in 2004. But there's real cause for concern among GOP leaders.
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