Here's our weekly selection of commentary from the fair-minded, the partisan and the light-hearted as the action progresses in one of the world's most enduring (and lengthy) democratic processes.
Last Friday Iowa experienced its first major snow storm of the season but that didn't get in the way of The Presidential Family Forum; a midwest special in which seven of those vying for the Republican nomination came to be quizzed on behalf of the Family Leader Foundation. This conservative Christian group described the event as a final exam before it decides which candidate it will endorse next month.
The seven presidential hopefuls were placed at a table designed to evoke Thanskgiving. Which it would have done, except all seated were looking out, creating a tableau with a discomforting resemblance to Leonardo Da Vinci's Last Supper, albeit down a a few disciples. Donald Trump and Jed Bush skipped the event. Both pleaded prior engagements but as NPR's Sarah McCammon noted, 'the format for the dinner — a soul searching discussion with a heavy focus on faith — isn't Trump's strong suit'.
Verdicts on the collective performance were mixed.
NBCNews ruled the seven 'showed unexpected warmth as they courted evangelical Christian voters with stories of their personal faith and struggles'. The network clearly keeps a tear-o-meter count, noting both Rick Santorum and Carly Fiorina 'teared up' at points; this was especially noteworthy for Fiorina who, NBC reminded us, has 'been seen by some critics as too cold in past debates'.
The Gospel Herald said the candidates shared 'personal, emotionally charged stories regarding praying for God's help, asking for forgiveness for a mistake, or questioning God for the suffering they were experiencing'.
But when discussion shifted from matters of the heart and soul to national security the dinner, in the eyes of of Esquire's Charles P Pierce at least, got ugly.
...the real meat on the Thanksgiving table got served up when [host Frank] Luntz wrenched the discussion away from sacred platitudes and into the realm of national security and foreign affairs. The clouds of incense were dispersed. The preacher masks all dropped. To a person, the seven Republican candidates came right up to the edge of accusing the president of the United States of treason and of being in sympathy with the murderers in France and in Mali. Right up to the edge, they all walked. Then they winked and took baby steps back, but everybody in the hall, all of the good Christians who'd come out in the snow, got the message.
Some 1100 Iowans turned up for the event which is incredible since it must be getting difficult for those who live in the State to get through their daily business without tripping over a presidential hopeful somewhere down the line. The enormously helpful Iowa Caucus Candidate Tracker on The Des Moine Register website helps voters keep track of who will be where and when. A bit like checking the bus timetable before you head out the door. Rick Santorum has attended 180 events in the State in the last three years (yep, that's how long some of these folk have been campaigning). He showed how it was done last Wednesday when he shook hands with voters at seven different locations. All of the GOP candidates are out in force, as are the Democrats but at least there are only three of them.
The snow kept falling after Friday, so much so authorities advised residents of Iowa's capital, Des Moines, to hold off travelling. Such warnings are unlikely to slow those campaigning though; all are acutely aware there are only nine weeks to the Iowa Republican caucus.
Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images