Rep. Ron Paul's (R-Texas) rise to the top of the polls in Iowa has grabbed the attention of the mainstream GOP, and "the alarms are sounding," say Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns at Politico. Iowa Republicans in particular are in a state of panic, believing that a Paul victory, aided by independents and Democratic caucus-crashers, would embarrass Iowa and create "an existential threat to the state's cherished kick-off status." Are Hawkeye State Republicans overreacting, or could the quirky 76-year-old libertarian really "kill the caucuses"?

Paul would ruin Iowa's relevance: If an unelectable, Israel-hating crank like Paul wins on Jan. 3, "Iowa caucus-goers will rightly be the target of widespread anger and disdain," says Jennifer Rubin at The Washington Post. There will be plenty of time to figure out the state's future in GOP presidential races — "Relegate it to February? Require a primary"? — but its special status would be gone. After all, "if Iowa can't sniff out such characters, why put it in charge of the winnowing?"
"What if Ron Paul wins Iowa?"

Nonsense. This is just an establishment scare tactic: The GOP is employing a novel strategy to get Paul-curious Iowans back in line, says Martin Longman at Booman Tribune: Nice first-in-the-nation caucus you got there, pity if somebody should break it. But if this strategy fails, would a Paul win really be so bad for the GOP? The Paul Democrats and independents would add "droves of new voters to your party list," and the GOP establishment could "let out a sigh of relief" that base Republicans would finally flock to Mitt Romney.
"A new line of attack on Dr. Paul"

Republicans are right to be afraid: To the extent that Iowa "believes it is blessed by God to have first-in-the-nation status," the state GOP has "an entirely legitimate concern" about Paul's surge, says Steve Benen at Washington Monthly. If he wins Iowa, future candidates have carte blanche to ignore the state, saying, "Let's focus our attention on New Hampshire or South Carolina, because those Iowans appear to be nuts." And remember, if the GOP gets too rough on Paul, a stature-boosting Iowa victory could "encourage him to run as an independent." That would split the GOP vote and all but assure Obama a second term.
"Pushing the Iowa caucuses into irrelevance?"