The Wall Street Journal reports: “In two straight surveys in the past month, veteran Iowa pollster Ann Selzer has noted a drop from four years ago in evangelical Christians saying they would attend the caucuses. She chalks it up to a lack of enthusiasm among those voters in the absence of a unifying candidate such as [Mike] Huckabee, who topped [Mitt] Romney by nine percentage points last time.” A low turnout puts a premium on, among other things, each candidate’s ground game. But is there really apathy?
Craig Robinson of the Iowa Republican see things a little differently. Robinson tells me, “I don’t think that just because some evangelicals are unenergized today necessarily means that they will not caucus on January 3rd. Four years ago, Huckabee was really the only option for this voting bloc, which made it easier for him to gain their support. This time around a number of candidates should satisfy this bloc of voters, namely Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann.”
If Robinson is right that many of these voters will drift to Bachmann or Santorum, then Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), who appeals to hard-core anti-government conservatives and is a strong pro-lifer, may have problems. Likewise, that makes it tricky for Newt Gingrich to cull out a voting bloc for him that is to the right of Romney but doesn’t much care about his personal baggage, ideological heresies and lobbying . . . er, historical analysis for Freddie Mac and other big government petitioners.
The divided evangelical electorate also may explain why Romney is stepping up his efforts in Iowa. If he essentially is able to keep intact his 2008 caucus voters, he could finish near the top of the heap.
But in some sense it’s still too early to read the tea leaves. It may seem strange to political junkies that not everyone in America is perfectly certain whom they will vote for. But especially in Iowa, voters decide late. In this case, it may be mid- or even late December before we see voters move to their final choices.
The late-decider phenomenon may harm Gingrich, who is only now going through his first round of tough media scrutiny, and Herman Cain, for whom every debate is another opportunity to make mega-gaffes. For Bachmann, Santorum and Romney, it is time to see how strong their grass-roots organization really is. The candidates who have avoided the state and/or eschewed organizing may have a rude awakening in December when Iowans make their final decisions.