The Associated Press reports: “Iowa Republicans may be starting to choose with their heads rather than their hearts as the Jan. 3 caucuses approach. The ascent of libertarian-leaning Ron Paul and the lack of an ideologically pure consensus conservative seem to be awakening a new sense of pragmatism in some Iowa Republicans. That bodes well for Mitt Romney, as a large chunk of undecided voters continues the search for someone capable of defeating President Barack Obama.” I don’t doubt that the A.P. picked up on the fact that Iowans are “increasingly concerned” about Rep. Ron Paul’s bizarre views and how a Paul win would reflect on the state. But these aren’t the views of caucus-goers in Ron Paul’s base of support. So there is real doubt as to whether the growing unease will make any difference on caucus night.
Th A.P. seems convinced Mitt Romney is consolidating his support. (“Public and private polling suggests he’s more often the second choice of Republican caucus-goers than any other candidate, indicating that Republicans could be swayed in the coming week to support him over others.”) What we don’t have so far is polling data in Iowa that reflect this.
However, Rick Santorum, I think, is the one to watch this week. He’s had not one but two pheasant hunting trips with Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who has yet to endorse anyone. The most recent was on Sunday. No word yet on a possible endorsement, but the congressman might relish playing the kingmaker (no pun intended). Meanwhile, Santorum’s radio and TV ads are becoming more prominent, and his collection of endorsements give his candidacy some legitimacy, alleviating voters’ concern that they’d be “wasting” a vote on him. When you look down the list of stories the Des Moines Register is covering, a large number of them now concern Santorum.
But what we see on the air and what Iowans see in the retail political stops around the state are, in a real sense, the tip of the iceberg, or they should be. Below the surface of public events the candidates’ ground game should be kicking in, making sure precinct captains are lined up, and making certain the get-out-the-vote operation is ready to go. If all campaigns have are slick ads and bus tours, then there will be potential supporters who won’t necessarily show up on caucus night and others who may slip through the cracks and be wooed by other campaigns.
Fox News reports:
At this stage, each week caucus campaigns are expected to be making tens of thousands of phone calls to potential caucus-goers. It is not unusual for a single Iowa household to get a half-dozen or more calls every evening from competing campaigns that have also plumbed the depth of voter registration information.
Ron Paul’s campaign is viewed in Iowa as having built the best organization.
“Very strong,” says Chuck Launder, who consults for the Rick Santorum campaign. “Ron Paul has been at it for four or five years. You gotta give those guys their credit.”
In other words, Paul is riding atop an organization that will maximize his turnout, perhaps making up some lost ground due to the controversy over the newsletters.
There is one thing on which all state operatives and pollsters with whom I have spoken to after Christmas agree: Newt Gingrich is running out of gas. Public Policy Polling notes: “Newt Gingrich just keeps on sliding. He’s gone from 27% to 22% to 14% to 13% over the course of our four Iowa tracking polls. His favorability numbers are pretty abysmal now at 37/54 and only 32% of likely voters think that he has strong principles to 45% who believe he does not. Once the darling of Tea Party voters in the state, he’s now slipped to third with that group behind Bachmann and Paul. There’s not much reason to think Gingrich can return to his former strong standing in the state in the final week.”
The final order of finish will depend on just how strong Paul’s turnout is, whether Romney is finally winning over the reluctant conservatives and if Santorum can gather a significant chunk of the evangelical vote. In other words, it’s now down to execution and weather (good weather helps the not-Ron Paul candidates).And if you’re interested the long-term weather forecasts, for what they are worth, they generally show cold but sunny weather on Jan. 3.