So then Susan Fredregill — a 58-year-old retiree with blonde highlights and six grandchildren to watch — moved on to her third Republican candidate of this chaotic presidential primary season. She liked former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.).
At least for a few days.
“Let’s just pick the smart one,” Fredregill thought. “And get it over with.”
This is what Iowa’s epic case of political indecision looks like, from the inside.
With less than two weeks before its first-in-the-nation caucuses, this state has already cycled through four front-runners. The latest is Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), whose poll numbers rose this week as Gingrich’s lead deflated.
This political promiscuity is a little embarrassing, for people who picture themselves in a state-sized Norman Rockwell painting: America’s sober, decisive First Voters. Now, many Iowans can’t stop changing their minds.
Some want the most electable candidate. Others want the purest conservative. They think they’ve got their choice — and then they don’t. Many Iowans say they’re frustrated by their inability to find a candidate that seems ready for this extraordinary moment.
Four of their stories may help answer a question at the heart of a young campaign season. Why can’t Iowa just make up its mind?
“Thank God it’s the Christmas holidays. Because I think we need some time to ourselves,” said Jeff Jorgensen, 57. “The whole state does.”
Jorgensen, a bearish man with large gold-rimmed glasses, was a political nobody three years ago. President Obama made him a somebody: Jorgensen, an IT worker, was so worried about Obama that he started writing letters to the editor. And more letters. And then pieces on RedState.com, warning that Obama would bring higher unemployment and growing debt.
Quickly, the Republican Party in Pottawatomie County, Iowa — in the cross-river suburbs of Omaha, Neb. — made this rabble-rouser its chairman. And now, Jorgensen is trying to find a candidate who can combine his personal need for a true conservative with the party’s need for somebody that can win.
He liked former pizza executive Herman Cain: an outsider, just like Jorgensen. Then, he liked Gingrich for his debate skills and experience. But he didn’t like what he learned about the speaker’s baggage.
So who will it be? Jorgensen talks his way through the other candidates, like a man re-counting dollar bills in search of a twenty that wasn’t there the first time. Perry? Failed to meet his expectations. Bachmann? Lost her lead already. Paul? His foreign policy.
Romney? “He ran in , and he ran in 2008. His name back then was Bob Dole and John McCain,” he said, saying that Romney and those two losing nominees are all too moderate in their beliefs.
Right now, Jorgensen said he’s most interested in Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), because of his strong conservative views on social issues. “There’s not a position that he has that I disagree with.” But Santorum is still a second-tier candidate. Could he really win? Would he really be up to the task of being president?