In the end, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich decided that resistance was futile and maybe even counter-productive. A week before the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, the two are finally about to launch bus tours of the state.
A bus tour is a great way to experience the under-appreciated glories of Iowa. (Seriously folks, the state is beautiful). It's also a valuable tool in a place that prizes personalized retail campaigning and hasn't seen all that much of it this year - especially from these two leading GOP presidential candidates.
Romney has been tending to his firewall in New Hampshire and trying to seem like he's not working too hard in Iowa lest he be embarrassed on caucus night. Gingrich has played the VIP celeb, counting mainly on debates to make him a contender.
That's changing this week in the final stretch. Romney gives a speech Tuesday night in Davenport and launches a three-day bus tour the next morning. Gingrich and his wife Callista will be riding a bus for the duration. Their "Jobs and Prosperity" tour starts Tuesday with 11 stops in its first three days.
That's small potatoes next to the 10 stops Michele Bachmann has scheduled for Tuesday alone. Bus tours have been a staple for Bachmann as well Rick Santorum, Rick Perry and Ron Paul - the other candidates competing hard in Iowa.
Polling in the unsettled race suggests Paul, Romney or Gingrich could win it. Bachmann and Santorum, short on money, are looking for a better-than-expected finish to keep them afloat. If Perry makes a surprise show of strength, he could re-emerge as the chief alternative to Romney.
Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times pointed out this week that some 370,000 Florida Republicans already have requested absentee ballots for that state's Jan. 31 primary -- more than all the Republicans who voted in the 2008 Iowa and New Hampshire contests combined.
Still, the snowball effect of doing well in Iowa and New Hampshire cannot be ignored. Thus the bus tours, the ads, the descending of the national media.
The most accurate indicator of how candidates will fare Jan. 3 in Iowa is the Des Moines Register poll conducted by Selzer & Co. of Des Moines. In the final days of 2007, it was the only poll to pick up on Barack Obama's growing lead over Hillary Clinton, due to his success at bringing new voters into the arcane caucus process.
The caucuses that year were also held Jan. 3 and the final poll was released Dec. 31 based on interviews conducted Dec. 27-30. Obama led Clinton 32 percent to 25 percent, a margin almost identical to his 8-percentage-point victory over Clinton and John Edwards a few days later.
The Register won't disclose when it is in the field this year. But judging by the 2007 time frame, interviewers will be talking to Iowa Republicans throughout this week of intensified candidate activity, advertising and press coverage.
Did Paul peak too soon? Did Romney and Gingrich wait too long to make a full-court press, or are they coming on strong just in time? The Register poll will be our best clue to what is likely to happen next week when Iowa Republicans cast the first votes of the primary season.