Santorum And Romney Big Winners In Iowa

Posted January 4th, 2012 at 9:49 pm (UTC+0)
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Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum will get a big boost from his showing in the Iowa Republican Party presidential caucus voting.

One Iowa voter told me he went to a Santorum rally months agoand less than five people showed up.  That was not the case when we went to see him shortly before the caucus vote where there was an overflow crowd of supporters waiting for him at a small restaurant in Polk City with an equally large media horde.

The problem for Santorum is he must avoid repeating what happened to former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee four years ago.  Huckabee won the caucus vote thanks to strong support from social conservatives but was unable to build on that momentum coming out of Iowa.

Santorum seems to have won the early contest to see who is the favored social conservative in the race, but unless he gets a lot more campaign funding and organization soon he may find it difficult to compete with Romney’s money and organization in upcoming contest states like South Carolina, Florida, Nevada and Michigan. At least Santorum will have one fewer conservative rival to worry about in the coming Republican primaries. Michele Bachmann dropped out of the race after her poor showing in Iowa.

Beyond Iowa For Romney

To some extent, mission accomplished for Mitt Romney in Iowa.

All along the Romney campaign, most feared challenges from Texas Governor Rick Perry and former House speaker Newt Gingrich.  Along the way both candidates suffered some self-inflicted wounds.  Perry unraveled in the debates and a lot of Republicans who saw him as the second coming of George W. Bush (or something like that) were sorely disappointed.

I talked to a Romney volunteer up from Florida over breakfast, and she said she and her husband really wanted to like Perry but basically abandoned him after they watched the first debate.  She settled on Romney as the best chance to actually beat President Obama.  Others liked Tim Pawlenty or Herman Cain before they left the race.  Now some of them are coming around to Romney.

Like But Not Love For Mitt Romney

Speaking of the former Massachusetts governor, I heard it from voters in Iowa over and over again, at least those looking to support other candidates.

With all due respect, they think he’s fake.  To them, he appears to lack a genuineness that a lot of these Iowa voters are searching for.  At times things seemed to veer into ‘Anybody But Romney’ territory.  They may like him.  They may think he has the best chance to beat Obama.  But I’m not finding a lot people here who love him like they did Ronald Reagan 30 years ago, though granted that would take some doing.

I also had an interesting conversation with Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, who was predicting a big night for both Romney and Rick Santorum.  When I asked him about voters telling me they thought Romney failed to project authenticity, he agreed it was a potential problem down the road.

Republican Race Tightens in Iowa

Posted January 1st, 2012 at 6:49 pm (UTC+0)
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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.

On to Iowa

Posted December 29th, 2011 at 7:05 pm (UTC+0)
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And So It Begins

The 2012 U.S. presidential election, that is, plus this blog.  The year-long run-up to the 2012 election campaign is just about over and the seven Republican Party presidential contenders will find out soon enough whether Iowa truly is the stuff of presidential dreams or a cold and dreary Midwestern dead end.  My hope is that this space will shed some light on the campaign in the months to come and will be a forum for an exchange of ideas, analysis and opinions.

The Iowa Stakes

The state of Iowa doesn’t always choose presidents just because it votes first in the nominating process.  But a top three finish is probably a good idea for anyone with a real hope of winning the Republican nomination.    No candidate who has ever finished lower than third place in the Iowa caucuses has ever won a party nomination for president.  Most states hold presidential primaries where voters go and vote at their local polling stations.  But Iowa and a small group of other states prefer caucus meetings where voters come together at a local school or community center, hold a brief meeting and then vote, either by secret ballot or a show of hands.

The Top Candidates

In recent weeks, the 2012 Republican Party race had been shaping up as a two-person affair between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich.  But the latest CNN/Time Magazine poll out of Iowa shows Romney with a slight lead over Texas Congressman Ron Paul, with Gingrich tumbling into fourth place behind former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum.  Think of  Ron Paul as a wild card, especially in Iowa, where he runs in the top bracket with Romney.  Paul could win in Iowa, which would probably help Romney and hurt Gingrich.  Most of the experts and Republican elites write off Paul as a serious contender for the nomination, which is why most of the talk centers on Romney and Gingrich, though Gingrich may be fading.

Looking To Break Through

About half of the Republican voters in Iowa are Christian or evangelical conservatives who are primarily concerned with upholding family values and who oppose abortion and gay marriage.  They often play a major role in the Republican caucus race in Iowa, which four years ago was won by Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor who was a favorite with the family values crowd.  Huckabee won in the state because he solidified support among social conservatives.

This year, three candidates hope to appeal to that same group — Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum.  Santorum seemed to be the most natural fit since he emphasizes these issues, and the latest CNN poll suggests he may be starting to click with these voters.  Perry came into the race like gangbusters but quickly fizzled when he couldn’t remember the third cabinet department he’d like to eliminate.   Bachmann won a test vote in Iowa in August, also known as a straw poll, but got immediately trumped by Perry’s entry into the race, so none of the three has caught on.  If one of them has a surprise surge on caucus night, January 3rd, it could alter the race a bit.  But for moment all three seem to be splitting the all-important social conservative vote and that could give Mitt Romney or Ron Paul an opening to win the caucuses.

How Important Will Iowa Be?

This has been a chaotic and at times confusing Republican race so far, so it’s not a given that the Iowa results will necessarily bring clarity to the field.  A Romney victory would be huge for him, and somewhat surprising, and would set up a potentially knockout blow in the New Hampshire Republican primary a week later where he is heavily favored.  A Gingrich victory would put Romney back on his heels and force him to spend more time and money winning New Hampshire and then face an uncertain future in the next primary, South Carolina, on January 21st.  But if Ron Paul wins in Iowa, it will hurt Gingrich more than Romney.  In fact in the Iowa race so far, Paul has been Romney’s best ally, running negative TV ads targeting Gingrich that have caused his poll numbers to weaken.  Romney has also been running anti-Newt ads, but Gingrich is about to fire back in the closing days of the campaign.

Why Iowa?

Tradition, basically.  Iowans started their caucus voting in 1972 when Ed Muskie beat George McGovern in the Democratic voting.  Later, McGovern was annihilated in the general election by the Republican incumbent, Richard Nixon.

But it was Jimmy Carter who put the caucuses on the map with an early victory in 1976 that propelled him toward the White House.  Before that the New Hampshire primary reigned supreme as the first real test vote in presidential politics.  New Hampshire is still pretty important but Iowa gets the nod as #1 and both states often act together to maintain their early status in fending off challenges from other states who would like in on some of the early action.

An early victory by Romney in Iowa, followed a week later by an expected win in New Hampshire, would give the former Massachusetts governor a huge lead in the Republican race.  A win by Gingrich could signal a long and bitter Republican primary, somewhat like Barack Obama versus Hillary Clinton among the Democrats in 2008.  A win by Ron Paul would elevate him into top tier status and probably make it a three-person race for at least the next several weeks.



Jim Malone

Jim Malone

After a stint in the Peace Corps in Swaziland, Jim joined VOA in 1983 as a reporter and anchor on English broadcasts to Africa.  He served as East Africa correspondent, then covered Congress in the early 1990’s.   Since 1995, Jim has served as VOA national correspondent responsible for coverage of U.S. politics, elections, the Supreme Court and Justice Department.  Jim has been involved in VOA’s election coverage since the 1984 presidential campaign and has co-anchored live VOA broadcasts of numerous national political conventions, candidate debates and election night coverage.


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