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This is a key week in the Republican nominating process, as a Thursday debate in Iowa will precede the Ames Straw Poll in that state this weekend, traditionally a test of grassroots backing, organization, and fundraising that historically has propelled unknowns to win the first-in-the-nation caucuses the following winter.

Mitt Romney, who won Ames in 2007, eventually lost the Iowa caucuses to Mike Huckabee, who finished a surprisingly strong second at Ames and never lost the momentum. This time around, Romney isn’t playing in the straw poll for that very reason.

Michele Bachmann, the Iowa frontrunner, needs to do well to maintain her image as a populist with wide Tea Party backing.

Tim Pawlenty, who has done over 100 events in Iowa but remains stuck in the single digits in polls, needs to at least exceed expectations and probably place in the top two to get any buzz heading into New Hampshire. Having predicated his whole candidacy on this state, a poor showing probably dooms his candidacy.

The Herman Cains and Ron Pauls of the world would need a breakout performance that jolts media perceptions of the viability of their candidacies to get anything useful out of the event.

Look for sharper contrasts than we’ve seen thus far in Thursday’s debate as the candidates jockey for the social conservative base that will likely determine the nominee to take on Obama next fall.

Photo by archer10 (Dennis) / CC BY-SA 2.0

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For months, one postal worker had been doing all she could to protect herself from COVID-19. She wore a mask long before it was required at her plant in St. Paul, Minnesota. She avoided the lunch room, where she saw little social distancing, and ate in her car.

The stakes felt especially high. Her husband, a postal worker in the same facility, was at high risk because his immune system is compromised by a condition unrelated to the coronavirus. And the 20-year veteran of the U.S. Postal Service knew that her job, operating a machine that sorts mail by ZIP code, would be vital to processing the flood of mail-in ballots expected this fall.

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