Michael Barone
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But current Iowa polling shows Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain and Mitt Romney in a tie for the lead there. According to the tracker, in the 38 days since Oct. 15, Gingrich has had Iowa campaign events on eight days, Cain on three and Romney on two. Rick Santorum has had Iowa events on 19 of those days and is the only candidates to have held them in all the state's 99 counties. But he's averaging only 7 percent in Iowa polls taken during that time.

Instead of personal contact, voters seem to be making decisions based on performance in debates, which thanks to cable news have been viewed by many more voters than in the past, and by what they've been reading and watching on the Internet.

A third rule of Republican races is that cultural and religious conservatives are the driving force in most contests outside the Northeast. In 2008, some 60 percent of Iowa Republican caucus-goers said they were religious conservatives.

But that rule may not be etched in stone. Iowa caucuses are open to anyone who shows up, and in 2008 only 119,000 Republicans did so in a state of 3 million. That leaves a large potential reservoir of newcomers this time.

Iowa pollster Ann Selzer reports less enthusiasm among evangelical Christians in this cycle, and some local Republicans predict a larger turnout this time. That could mean an infusion of new participants, with results that can't be extrapolated from past contests.

Behind all these apparent changes in the rules of the game has been the increasing importance of new media, which makes political communication cheaper, more plentiful (for those who are interested) and harder to control.

The old gatekeepers -- local politicos, TV news and newspapers -- are increasingly bypassed. It's a more polarized politics, but also one that is more democratic and more open.

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Michael Barone

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