Opinion: Pawlenty’s gone, so who’s the next Republican to fold?

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Most of the attention on the Black Hawk County Lincoln Dinner Sunday night was focused on two speakers -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the newest entrant in the Republican presidential race, and Rep. Michele Bachmann, the Waterloo native who felt the need to appear too once Perry’s attendance was confirmed.

Perry, who’s now surged to a double-digit lead in the GOP field in one new poll, came early, schmoozed from table to table, took his turn with the microphone and listened to all the other speakers, including an interminable presentation by a Lincoln lookalike.

Bachmann, who won the Ames Straw Poll, came late, demanded different lighting, missed her entrance cue and talked briefly with attendees.

But there was another candidate in the Electric Park Ballroom, former two-term Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, the Rodney Dangerfield of the GOP field so far in 2011.


When his turn arrived, Santorum ignited audience laughter when he said that as the evening’s undercard, he was expected to speak briefly.

So he did.

Will he be the next GOP campaign dropout? Santorum finished fourth at Ames, worse even than Pawlenty, who said he needed a strong showing to maintain sufficient donor interest. The Minnesotan didn’t get it and pulled the plug the next day on his substantial Iowa ground operation.

But Santorum had much less invested in Iowa, other than miles and time. And fourth place for him seemed better than expected. So he postponed his return to Pennsylvania and went to the Waterloo dinner to continue his quiet guerrilla struggle for support as a conservative alternative to Mitt Romney in hopes that Perry and Bachmann somehow knock each other off.

Santorum pecks away at Bachmann much as Pawlenty did, for her alleged lack of congressional accomplishments, and at Perry for his seemingly diffident same-sex marriage stance.

Or what about Herman Cain, the pizza godfather? Probably not, not yet anyway.

Gallup compiles what it calls a Positive Intensity Score, a measure of a candidate’s strength of support. Although he regularly polls down in the pack, Cain’s intensity is the highest among Republicans, 25. Next already is Perry’s at 23 followed by Bachmann at 20 and usual poll leader and top moneyraiser Romney stuck at 15. The undeclared Sarah Palin also has 15 and Rudy Giuliani has 20.

Ron Paul finished a close second at Ames and his devoted disciples wouldn’t let him quit even if he was discouraged by his disappointing intensity score of 11.

According to the same score, the weakest remaining GOP candidate now is Newt Gingrich at only three. But his debate appearances help his other business, selling books, DVDs and maintaining his speaking fees.

Jon Huntsman’s intensity score is only four and Santorum’s isn’t much better at six. So, watch for one of them to fade, especially if Santorum’s fundraising stalls back home.


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-- Andrew Malcolm

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