TODAY   |  December 28, 2011

Is Iowa Ron Paul's to lose?

If Ron Paul wins on Tuesday, can he realistically mount a sustainable campaign and challenge the other candidates for the GOP nomination? NBC's Chuck Todd reports from Iowa.

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>> exander in iowa , thank you very much.

>>> chuck todd is on the road in iowa as well, in mason city . chuck, good morning to you.

>> reporter: good morning, matt.

>> we talk about the slugfest and it will continue over the next six days. one of the reasons is so many people in iowa say they haven't made up their minds yet. what do they expect to hear in the next six days that they haven't heard in tv ads, radio ads , seen in literature and heard in these 13 gop debates?

>> reporter: i think part of it is for iowans they like to get wooed and they haven't been wooed in this cycle than in previous cycles. only in the last ten days has iowa to me looked like iowa , where you have candidates crisscrossing the state. there's sort of three chunks of voters to woo in iowa , mainstream establishment republican type and you have your evangelicals, the second group and this new group of voters that ron paul has been wooing, that middle group, evangelicals who helped dictate the winner or perceived winner out of this before and there are so many candidates, matt, trying to appeal to that sort of one-third of what could be the caucus electorate, and because that's splintered still, that's where there seems to be so much indecision.

>> this professor in peter's piece said iowans are looking for someone to inspire them, get them engaged, get them enthusiastic. any indication in polling who seems to be filling that space?

>> reporter: well, no and i think who was filling it, the reason you had different leaders, the latest newt gingrich was firing up conservatives, making the case at a debate that said i'm going to go directly after president obama , maybe do it a little bit more personally than a mitt romney . all of it seems to be this attempt to find a contrast to mitt romney . mitt romney more soft-spoken, mitt romney somebody the conservatives are still trying to figure out, is he really one of them, and that's what's missing here. ron paul inspires a chunk of voters and right now he seems to be the one guy that's inspiring some folks but they're not traditional republicans.

>> if you look at the polls he's going to have a pretty big day on tuesday. if he wins in iowa , and a lot of people think he could, is there a path to victory for ron paul past iowa ?

>> reporte

>> reporter: there, there's not. the caucus states are where you can do well. you can bring in non-republicans and register them that day as republicans and he has this appeal to independents and new voters and things like that. look, this is a game of where does mitt romney finish and where does newt gingrich or even in an upset a rick perry finish. if any of those finish above mitt romney that are not named ron paul will be the actual winner.

>> if mitt romney finishes second to ron paul it's still a victory because a, we didn't put all that much time and energy into iowa and b this would be, making these words up, "it's just ron paul ."

>> reporter: yes and no -- more importantly no conservative. ron paul doesn't have the appeal to the evangelical conservatives or foreign policy conservatives or economic conservatives. you have romney coming out here with a second place of steam, if it's behind ron paul going into new hampshire and a bunch of candidates trying to make a last stand in south carolina about ten days after new hampshire and that could be it.

>> chuck todd in iowa , thanks very much as always. it's