Both have an obvious appeal to religious conservatives who have been the dominant force in Iowa Republican contests. Pawlenty has had a head start in organizing, and as a two-term governor has seemed to have a stronger claim to be a serious candidate. But the two came out of the debate seeming more evenly matched than he surely hoped.
Romney is not competing in Iowa as he did in 2008, when he won the straw poll but then saw second-place finisher Mike Huckabee beat him in the January precinct caucuses. Newt Gingrich is evidently not competing in the straw poll, either.
All of which makes it likely that there will be a real traffic jam in New Hampshire. Gingrich, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum have to do well there to remain viable. Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah and Obama's ambassador to China, says he will announce next week and will concentrate on New Hampshire and Florida.
And the field may expand further. Rick Perry, governor of Texas, the state that has been America's leading job-producer over the last decade, showed no interest in running until last month. But now he's giving speeches in California and New York, and may be ready to saddle up. And Rudy Giuliani, whose 2008 campaign fizzled out, is eyeing New Hampshire, as well.
Then there is House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, whose name was mentioned favorably 10 times in the debate. Only two things that seem certain about the Republican race. Ron Paul will soldier on, bashing the Federal Reserve, to the end. And that the energy and enthusiasm on display Monday night will produce some twists and turns no one will predict.
Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM