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Opinion: For the Back of the Pack, it's Decision Day

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Republican presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) speaks to a Town Hall meeting held at the Principal Financial Group December 29, 2011 in Des Moines, Iowa.

“Decision Day” proclaimed the front page of this morning’s Des Moines Register. After seemingly endless Republican debates and television commercials that have taken a decidedly negative tone of late, the voters in Iowa will begin casting their ballots to select the next Republican nominee to seek the presidential nomination for their party.

Having been in Iowa for the past two days, what is clear to me is that while many focus on who the winner of the Iowa Caucus will be later this evening, the true question to be answered is whether certain candidates ranking near the bottom in the minds of voters will get the message that their best course of action is to drop out.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has taken the gloves off within the last 24 hours and called presumptive front-runner Mitt Romney (R-MA) a “liar.” While the former governor of Massachusetts has brushed off such criticism with the confidence of a candidate who knows he will finish strong tonight, Gingrich’s demeanor indicates he knows his campaign is on the ropes. A fourth or fifth place finish for Gingrich would be the beginning of the end of his campaign—with little money and little organizational strength in the early primary states, his departure from the field would be more or less a matter of time.

Similarly, former Texas Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) and Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-MN) face a decision day of their own later this evening. While Perry has the resources to survive should he finish poorly tonight, Bachmann would have slid from being the winner of the Iowa Straw Poll earlier this year to potentially finishing dead last in the field. How long would it take for her to decide that it might be in her best interest to step aside if she stumbles tonight?

Finally, I wonder what message former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Texas Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) will receive if they finish strongly tonight, as expected. Attending a campaign rally with both candidates earlier this morning, they each fed off the energy of their supporters in the crowd and look to finish in the top three this evening. And yet, the viability of Ron Paul to secure the Republican nomination appears remote at best, and while Santorum is clearly surging here in Iowa, he is well behind Romney in New Hampshire. With little money and scant organization in the ground in other states, will Santorum decide to stick out his long shot bid for the White House regardless of how he finishes tonight?

Today is decision day. A day in which voters in one state get to decide who they believe should be the next President of the United States. Tomorrow, three or four of the candidates seeking the republican nomination may have to make strong and difficult decisions as to whether they decide to continue their pursuit of the Oval Office.