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Luntz Warns GOP: 'A War Is About To Break Out Within This Primary Field'

At Ron Paul's caucus night event in Ankeny, Iowa, most of his supporters were celebrating. Paul finished a strong third in Tuesday night's caucuses.

But one man in the crowd — famed Republican strategist Frank Luntz — was much more concerned with what happens next.

"I think over the next 24 to 48 hours, the campaign's gonna get a little bit meaner, a little darker, and a little bit more personal, as the candidates now fight for their life," said Luntz, who spoke with NPR in between television appearances Tuesday night.

For Luntz, the lack of a clear GOP front-runner will make for a protracted primary season that could drag on through April. And he says it won't be pretty: "Republicans are not gonna like what's about to happen. ... I think a war is about to break out within this primary field."

For the short term, Luntz made some predictions about two upcoming GOP contests: "There's no question [Romney] wins New Hampshire. There is a significant question who wins South Carolina. For the first time in a long time, South Carolina truly matters."

And two candidates, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, are helping to keep it a toss-up: "One week ago, you could swing a dead cat and you wouldn't find a Rick Santorum supporter," said Luntz. "And now in just seven days, he brings it all back."

As for Paul, Luntz said he's introducing some new faces to the GOP. "Forty-one percent of this electorate is brand new, and 30 percent don't even identify themselves as conservative," he said. "You've got a brand-new looking puzzle, and that helped Ron Paul."

And traditional GOP voters? Luntz summed up their desires simply: "There are three things that Republican primary voters are looking for: First, someone who can defeat [President Obama]. Second, someone who says what they mean, means what they say, looks you straight in the eye and is clear about it. And third, someone who offers a sense of confidence in the future, almost a Reagan-esque approach that'll make people think that tomorrow is gonna be better than today."

The only thing is that Republican voters haven't decided who that person is yet, Luntz said.

"There isn't a single Republican candidate at this point who has all three of those attributes," said Luntz. "That's why these numbers keep changing. That's why candidates go up and go down."

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Sam Sanders
Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.