The Republican presidential candidates race into the home stretch in the final 36 hours before the Iowa caucus, the long-awaited voting day that could make (but will probably break most) dreams of reaching the White House. The last major poll to come out this weekend from the Des Moines Register shows Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, and late rallier Rick Santorum in a virtual dead heat.
Here's where each candidate stands at the moment, in increasing order of the likelihood of winning:
Jon Huntsman: Though still technically in the race, Huntsman is literally a non-factor in Iowa. He's not even there this week as he's putting all his eggs in New Hampshire's basket.
Michele Bachmann: The Minnesota Congressman says she expects a "miracle" tomorrow and she is going to need to one or Iowa will be the final nail in her coffin. Her numbers have faded across the board since her peak last summer and it's hard to imagine her continuing past Tuesday if she finishes at the bottom as expected. Although anything is possible with Bachmann.
Rick Perry: Despite polling slightly higher, Perry may be even more irrelevant than Bachmann. While still living off a substantial bankroll he built over the summer, his candidacy is now an afterthought and most Republicans decided long ago that the gaffe-prone governor is ready for the national stage.
Newt Gingrich: An unprecdented comeback, followed by an even more incredible collapse. It's possible that his organizational effort can still work some magic on Tuesday, but if he doesn't break into the top two or three, this may be it for him as well.
Rick Santorum: A national joke for most of this campaign, Santorum is peaking at exactly the right time, mostly by gathering the castoffs of Gingrich and Bachmann's social conservative support. His total commitment to on-the-ground marching in Iowa (he regularly brags about visiting all 99 counties) is finally paying off, but he needs an unquestioned win here to give any hope of proving he can be the anti-Romney candidate. If he gets it, expect the heat to come down hard on his record and background before New Hampshire.
Ron Paul: Another victim of the "surge to the spotlight, then fade in the heat" pattern of the GOP race, Paul is sagging in the final days. His rabid followers can make a big dent in a caucus state, but anything less than first place will make the upcoming a primaries a huge challenge for him.
Mitt Romney: Let's be honest ... Romney is going to be the nominee. No matter who wins in Iowa, they can't compete with Romney in New Hampshire and will struggle to keep pace with him in the next primary states (South Carolina and Florida.) He can afford to finish second in any of those other races, but Paul or Gingrich or Santorum would need to win them all to avoid being behind in the delegate count when February rolls around. Romney (who has put minimal effort in the first state) would need an absolute disaster in Iowa to make anyone question his viability, but he's making one final push this week in the hopes that an outright win in the first two states would eliminate all doubt.