The Post reports on Iowa voters: “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.” This is nothing extraordinary for Iowa caucus-goers.
In the 2008 caucuses, 17 percent of attendees didn’t make up their minds until the day of the caucuses. Another 13 percent decided in the final 13 days of the race. And 10 percent decided in the last week. Less than 30 percent of voters decided more than a month in advance. That does suggest that finishing strong in Iowa is critical.
Mitt Romney’s comeback after the Newt Gingrich surge is therefore well timed. He’ll be back in Iowa tomorrow evening, and then he’ll begin a final, three-day bus tour. And he has racked up endorsements from former Iowa speakers of the House, the Des Moines Register and the Sioux City Journal. Other than Ron Paul, Romney is the only candidate who can boast of a widespread and well-oiled organization. His ads are omnipresent. His more assertive, confident tone is evident in the newest TV ad:
By contrast, Newt Gingrich picked the wrong time to go into a slump. His last debate performance was his weakest. His message is now almost entirely defense. Virginia unfairly kept him off the ballot. His opponents are unfairly running negative ads. He does know he would have to run against the Obama campaign machine if he wins the nomination, right? His relative scarcity of TV ads is not helping him to make his final case to the viewers
Rick Santorum, like Romney, now seems to be firing on all cylinders. Both his campaign and his super pac are getting TV ads on the air. And now his strong debate performances and a batch of endorsements have given the press more reason to cover him.
The Des Moines Register, for example, reports: “Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, who has moved up from sixth place to fourth place in some recent Iowa polls, has increased his advertising purchase in every Iowa media market, campaign aides said. . . . Although the Pennsylvania Republican describes himself as a ‘full-spectrum conservative,’ he’s hitting hard in Iowa on social issues, such as opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. He has also said that as president he would support efforts to bolster two-parent households and to require absentee fathers to be responsible for their children.”
As for Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), there is a big question of whether the spate of news stories about his racist newsletters and his bizarre foreign policy views have had any impact on his supporters in Iowa. Mike Huckabee, the 2008 Iowa caucuses winner, had this take on Fox News Sunday: “Well, Ron Paul has an exceptional organization there. And it very well could be that he could end up winning because of the extraordinary devotion of his followers. And I often said, Chris, he’s got people that would walk over broken glass for him and they’d break the glass just to be able to say they did it.” He vividly described the sort of committed followers needed by candidates in a caucus state:
When you go to a caucus, you drive out for a cold evening in a drafty school house or church fellowship hall, you are there for two or three hours, maybe longer, and you’re going to have to stand up in front of your neighbors, in front of your pastor, your doctor, your kid’s teachers. You are going to stand up there and you are going to have to declare “I’m for candidate A.” And everybody in neighborhood knows who you stood for.
And then if you have a second choice, you’ll have to stand for him.
It puts the pressure on people. So, what you have, you have the serious hardcore, true believers who go out on caucus night. That’s why there may only be 110,000 people voting in the caucus rather than half a million that might be in the primary.
But the point is, those hundred thousand represent the hardcore political activists and that’s why the polls don’t necessarily indicate what’s going to happen because polls, you pick up the phone and you say, yes, I kind of like so and so. Caucus you got to drive and stand up and be counted for the candidate. It’s a very different kind of atmosphere.
The Des Moines Register echoes that view, reporting today:
Paul has found relative success here because the caucus process draws a small pool of voters who tend to be energized by in-person campaigning. . . .
If any establishment Republicans are trying to comfort themselves by believing that Paul’s support in polls will melt away on caucus night, they should consider this: In the Register’s final Iowa Poll before the 2008 Republican caucuses, 9 percent of people who planned to caucus said they favored Paul. In the actual caucuses, he was backed by 10 percent of voters.
He’s reaping the benefit now of having run four years ago and keeping in contact with supporters. His campaign’s organizational strength is viewed as a potential edge in getting out voters on caucus night.
In short, Santorum and Romney are on the upswing, Gingrich is not. Ron Paul’s devoted followers may be immune to the negative information filtering through the mainstream and conservative media. If the final week of the contest is the most critical, it stands to reason that the candidates with the most momentum (Romney, Santorum, Paul) will scoop up the lion’s share of late deciders. And in Iowa, there are plenty of those.