On the ground, the sense is that Repbulican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum or Ron Paul could win the Iowa caucuses Tuesday night, where committed GOP supporters will cast the first votes of 2012.
A Public Policy Polling survey, conducted over the New Year's holiday weekend, found a three-way tie. Paul, the libertarian congressman from Texas, was the choice of 20 percent of likely caucus participants, according to the poll. Romney had the support of 19 percent, and Santorum, the social conservative and former senator from Pennsylvania, was at 18 percent support.
Newt Gingrich had 14 percent, Texas Gov. Rick Perry at 10 percent, Michele Bachmann at 8 percent and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who has not campaigned in Iowa, at 4 percent.
PPP found that Santorum has been surging, and has the highest net positive raiting among the leading candidates. Santorum, who had been languishing despite frequent campaigning in the state, has not been touched up with the attack ads that have devastated Gingrich in recent weeks.
"It's impossible to tell who is going to win Tuesday night," said Dean Debnam, president of PPP, a Democrat-oriented firm in Raleigh, NC. He said that momentum is on Santorum's side, a passionate base argues for Paul, and Romney's strength is the sense that he might be most electable against President Obama. It all depends which factor is most on the minds of caucus-goers.
The survey has a margin of error of plus or minust 2.5 perentage points, accoding to the pollsters.