Shifting Sands In the Iowa Caucus Race
Des Moines, Iowa – The latest public opinion poll from the local newspaper, the Des Moines Register, has some possible clues to the eventual outcome of the first voting for a U.S. presidential nominee here on Tuesday.
Yes, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul are leading the pack of Republican Party contenders. But the one to watch is former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum. Santorum has climbed into third in the latest polls and his trajectory could go even higher.
So why the late surge? Partly because so many of the other conservative Republican hopefuls have stumbled somewhere along the way. Michele Bachmann now rests at the bottom of the polls and is struggling with campaign defections and disorganization. Rick Perry is spending a lot of money here and is targeting Iowa’s evangelical Christian voters and their focus on family values. Newt Gingrich has had a steady slide here in Iowa thanks to an unrelenting barrage of attack ads on TV funded by the Ron Paul campaign and groups friendly to Romney.
That leaves Santorum poised for his moment in the sun. He appeals to the religious conservatives and he has spent as much time in Iowa as any of the candidates, including visits to all 99 Iowa counties. It seems social conservatives are flocking to Santorum just at the right time and, who knows, he could even pull off an upset on Tuesday. Maybe it’s only fair because Santorum is the only one of the conservative contenders who never experienced a surge. Gingrich, Perry and Bachmann all had their turns and for various reasons later fell in the polls.
Gingrich Fading But Still Battling
There was a Newt Gingrich town hall event in the small western Iowa town of Atlantic and let me tell you there is nothing more instructive than seeing voters interact with a candidate in the final stages of an election contest. Newt rolled into a soft drink plant in his big bus, but the dramatic entrance may have been the high point. Gingrich seemed tired and a little listless in his speech and a question-and-answer session with voters. One woman we interviewed, Eleanor Becker, told Gingrich in the Q&A that though she supported the former House speaker, the negative TV ads about him had given her pause and “raised doubts.” Wow. That shows the impact of these negative ads in the final stages of an election. Gingrich tried to assure her about the attacks and Becker told us later she was still with him, but having that kind of doubt creep into a campaign in the final days can be lethal.
Iran, China and the Iowa Voter
It’s still amazing how much some of the Republican candidates continue to hammer away on Iran as a threat to U.S. national security and how China continues to pose an economic threat. But in recent days the Republican contenders have switched their attacks a bit away from President Barack Obama and are now focused on Ron Paul. Paul has been firm in saying he doesn’t think the U.S. should go to war with Iran over it’s nuclear weapons ambitions, and that stand is drawing almost constant flak now from rivals like Romney, Bachmann and Gingrich, who says he couldn’t vote for Paul if he won the party’s presidential nomination. Just a reminder that not all politics is local, as they used to say, and that national security and the U.S. relationship with the world remains a factor in the Republican race.