There will be winners next Tuesday in Iowa and there will be losers.
Although many prospective Iowa Republican presidential caucus-goers have yet to decide who they will vote for Jan. 3, it's increasingly clear who among the six GOP candidates competing here (former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman skipped the Hawkeye State contest) will likely leave without a coveted win, place or show "ticket" out.
We wanted to see what the potential last days of campaigning look like for candidates who, barring some dramatic event, are unlikely to finish in the top three in Iowa.
So NPR photographer Becky Lettenberger and I headed to the small central Iowa city of Indianola on Wednesday afternoon to check out events for two once high-flying candidates: Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who led in early polls here before he officially entered the race, and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, who won the state party's August straw poll.
Perry drew a good crowd at his "shake 'n' howdy" event at the Sports Page Grill, and Bachmann's people told us she has been attracting more people at stops during her 99-county bus tour than the dozen or so who showed up at the Pizza Ranch restaurant.
But we came away with some images and thoughts about what a likely-to-fail campaign looks like.
1. Controversial Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio is your ambassador (Perry). Arpaio and his tough-on-illegal-immigrants stance may be popular with some, but a recent Justice Department report concluded that the Maricopa County sheriff engaged in illegal and unconstitutional acts targeting Latinos. Oh, and he called Iowans "Buckeyes" during an earlier event in Des Moines.
2. You pause for natural applause lines and are greeted by deafening silence (Perry). One example: the governor, with Arpaio looking on approvingly, said that within a year of winning the White House, he will guarantee that the U.S.-Mexico border "will be secure." Crickets. His one applause line? Making Congress part-time.
3. You assert that, as president, you would never file a lawsuit to undo actions a state has taken, and that tort reform should be a priority (Perry). But walk the walk? Perry just 24 hours earlier had sued Virginia's elections board and the state's Republican Party, after he failed to meet its requirements to get on the state's Super Tuesday primary ballot.
4. When your state chair resigns publicly at a rival's event and endorses the rival six days before caucuses (Bachmann).
5. When the friends and family exiting your campaign bus exceed the number of people at your event (Bachmann). The number of press traveling with her has also dwindled to three or four.
6. When there are empty tables inside, plenty of parking spots outside and a stack of free yard signs remains largely untouched (Bachmann).
7. When media people like Becky and me are following you for "Is this the end?" stories (Perry and Bachmann).