Mitt Romney and Ron Paul are leading a field of seven candidates in polling in Iowa, where citizens will cast votes on Jan. 3.
Meanwhile, the AP is reporting that two Iowa pastors, fearing a split among religious right voters, suggested Rick Santorum or Michele Bachmann bow out before the precinct caucusing takes place next week.
“Otherwise, like-minded people will be divided and water down their impact,” said the Rev. Cary Gordon, a Sioux City minister who asked Santorum several weeks ago to consider exiting the race but now supports the former U.S. senator.
The Rev. Albert Calloway, a retired pastor from Indianola, Iowa, asked U.S. Rep. Bachmann, R-Minn., to consider quitting.
Both pastors said they were concerned that neither Romney nor Paul are close to their causes. And Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, and Paul, a long-serving Texas congressman, are running neck-and-neck in the state, where the caucuses are a test of a candidate’s ability to raise cash and organize staff and volunteers.
With Newt Gingrich fading from the top tier after being targeted by a barrage of attack ads, Iowa voters are about evenly split between the more moderate Romney and the extreme libertarian views of Paul, according to the AP.
But many Republican conservatives across the country distrust Romney because of his past positions on abortion, gay marriage and health care. Paul, meanwhile, is seen as too extreme by mainstream party voters.
The Iowa caucuses likely will force some candidates to drop out of the race and shape the coming six-month string of state-by-state primary elections and caucuses leading up to the Republican National Convention in August that officially names a candidate.
New Hampshire’s primary is Jan. 10, where Romney holds a lead in polls. South Carolina’s primary is Jan. 21, followed by Florida’s primary on Jan. 31.