Political Animal


January 01, 2012 8:10 AM Where things stand in Iowa

By Steve Benen

We talked last night about the sought after results of the Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll, which, not surprisingly, continue to show a competitive contest. Let’s briefly revisit where things stand just two days before caucus-goers make their preferences known.

The DMR poll effectively shows two tiers: three top-tier candidates who stand a chance of winning in Iowa (Romney at 24%, Paul at 22%, and Santorum at 15%), and three second-tier candidates who hope Iowa doesn’t derail their entire campaign (Gingrich at 12%, Perry at 11%, and Bachmann at 7%). It’s counter-intuitive, but the order of the bottom three may very well end up mattering more than the order of the top three — Santorum will get a boost no matter where he ends up in the top tier, while poor showings among the second-tier candidates may knock one or more candidates out of the race altogether.

Also note, of course, that there’s still room for even more changes — Santorum was third overall, but as the Register’s pollster, J. Ann Selzer, noted, he was a very strong second in the final two days the poll was conducted. The possibility of Santorum winning Iowa now seems perfectly plausible.

Alexander Burns’ observation last night also rings true:

The poll is obviously good news for Mitt Romney as well as Santorum, and a late, authoritative survey like this one can also end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy as voters narrow their options to a subset of candidates viewed as possible winners.

Right. More than 40% of likely caucusgoers “say they could still be persuaded to change their minds,” and given the number of social conservatives in Iowa, talk of the late “Santorum surge” could very well produce a snowball effect. One of the main problems plaguing Santorum for months was the impression that his campaign just wasn’t going anywhere — and now that he’s the talk of the town, it seems more than likely that the former senator will not only pick up some late undecided Republicans, but also support from Perry and Bachmann, who are competing for the same GOP constituencies.

And what about Romney? By all appearances, the former governor is feeling very confident about his chances in Iowa, and he clearly goes into Tuesday as the apparent frontrunner, but even his support comes with caveats. Remember, Romney dropped the pretense weeks ago about whether he’s competing to win in Iowa, and he’s now invested considerable amounts of time, money, and energy to come out on top. And yet, even after Romney has made these efforts in Iowa, and become the clear frontrunner at the national level, he still can’t break his 24% ceiling, and his support is effectively at the same level as it was in October.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • c u n d gulag on January 01, 2012 8:22 AM:

    So, 40% of the Teabagging and religious nuts are still waiting for the music to stop on Tuesday, and then run for the chairs?

    That ain't good for Mittens.

    That tells me that Mitt still has big problems as of the day that poll was taken.

    Now, if he wins this first game of musical chairs, his next test will be South Carolina, which is a another Teabagging and religious nut state whose primary is coming up soon.

    If Mitt can take both Iowa and SC, he may well be on his way to the nomination. But I still think too much of the base hates his guts, and will do anything to make his Mormon life miserable.

    I look forward to the returns on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.

    At least I have this in common with the morons in the MSM - no, NOT the "moron" part! - but the loving a good horse-race part.
    Though I can certainly understand why you might think it was the other.

  • theAmericanist on January 01, 2012 8:24 AM:

    If it's a choice between Romney and ONLY Santorum, it's hard to see how Santorum loses. This would be a good news cycle for one of the others to endorse him.

  • Danp on January 01, 2012 8:43 AM:

    Let's call this the culture of ignorance. In an effort to avoid nominating an uninspiring flip-flopping candidate who appears to represent only the wealthy and the ultra-wealthy, Republicans flock to whichever non-Romney they know the least about. This was a bad year to run a vanity campaign.

  • chi res on January 01, 2012 8:47 AM:

    It's Sunday morning.

    What will all the IA evangelicals be talking about at church today?

    I'm guessing a certain "frothy mix" will be dominating the conversation (and I don't mean champagne cocktails).

  • DAY on January 01, 2012 8:59 AM:

    You can get anything you want, at Alice's Restaurant.

    Assuming you like liver, spinach, fat free yoghurt, or day old bread.

    Stay home, and dust off that old bumper sticker:
    "Don't Blame me! I didn't Vote for Him."

  • tomb on January 01, 2012 9:49 AM:

    I don't understand why you place Santorum in the top tier at 15%. He's actually closer to the fifth-place candidate (Perry 11%) than the second place candidate (Paul 22%). Wishful thinking of a chaotic result?

  • Prup (aka Jim Benton) on January 01, 2012 11:58 AM:

    My apologies to the person I still consider the 'one indispensable daily read' -- and a friend -- but you have, in your first post of the year, set a high bar for the 'dumbest statement I made in 2012' right here in your first post -- when you agreed with Alexander Burns that the poll was good news for Romney.

    This is the sort of 'assuming that politics as usual still applies' that Obama's continuous search for bi-partisanship symbolized, that people who knew that the Republicans would really show statesmanship and not hold the economy for ransom, that assumed they didn't want Obama to fail at whatever cost to America. In short, it is attempting to force observable facts into your pre-conceived ideas of how politics "should" work.

    The fact is that everytime a new Republican anti-Romney front-runner collapses (Pawlenty, Bachmann, Trump, Perry, Cain, Gingrich, Paul) his supporters wil go anywhere but to Romney. Th idea that, somehow this pattern will break and they will all 'gather together behind the frontrunner' seems to be disproven with every desperate attempt to find somebody else to vote for.

    As I've said, this means that if the Convention were to nominate Romney, it would be heaven for us, because so many Republican voters would stay home from the polls that even some of the 'unwinnable' Senate seats would be in play. But it simply isn't going to happen.

    There is no way that enough Republican Primary voters are going to vote for Romney delegates to give him a majority going into the convention. But more importantly, the delegates who are going to be elected are not going to be 'average pols' who react to seeming inevitability by 'holding their noses and going along.'

    These delegates will be more radical, and more fanatical tham the average Republican. They wil not line up behind Romney. Lord knows who they'll finally come up with (John W. Davis has been dead for many years), but it won't be Romney!

    The fact that this is not obvious to you, to all the Left blogosphere is one of the more worrisome events of the last couple of months. We followed 'conventional wisdom' in 2010 -- kicking Howard Dean's remarkable success with the '50-state strategy' to the curb, and created the biggest Disaster the Democratic party has suffered in a century -- and there was no examination of the mistakes that we all made.

    (Instead what I heard -- and keep hearing -- is the traditional 'cry of the Village.' You know, "Don't be silly, we're the experts, we weren't wrong. We couldn't be, we've studied all these things, so if any9one made mistakes, it was the voters, the politicians, but not US!")

    Which means, instead of learning from our mistakes, we'll keep making them. And after blowing the chance we had in 2010 to turn the Obama Presidency into an unbreakable Liberal fortress, and instead screwed up the Senate so badly that there is no way that Obama can get a SCOTUS Appointment to the left of Bryan Fisher or David Barton past a filibuster for the rest of his second term. we are being given a 'second chance.'

    Just think what sort of platform the Republican delegates who actually get elected will construct. It should be so offensive that it would make 70% of the voters in the country permanentl;y Democratic if we use it against them.

    The blogosphere and the Democratic establishment, working together the way they did in 2006 and 2008, should be, triumphant, winning elections we should have had no shot.

    But if we maintain the 'broadcasting the game from the Goodyear Blimp so we can get above the fray and see the patterns' mentality we've developed, if we continue to see the political world and the Republican Party (i>as it is today as a place where there is any realistic shot of Romney getting nominated, we're going to kick this one away too.

  • stinger on January 01, 2012 12:02 PM:

    "Good news for Mitt Romney" must be the new "good news for John McCain". In other words, everything that happens. And just as likely to him any good come November.

    Now captcha is asking for a superscript - what the heck??

  • low-tech cyclist on January 01, 2012 12:51 PM:

    Itís counter-intuitive, but the order of the bottom three may very well end up mattering more than the order of the top three ó Santorum will get a boost no matter where he ends up in the top tier, while poor showings among the second-tier candidates may knock one or more candidates out of the race altogether.

    Nah, the second three are out, whether they keep on running or not. Fourth in Iowa buys a one-way ticket to political oblivion, because none of the second-tier candidates are going to win NH.

    If Perry or Bachmann finishes fourth in Iowa, s/he will be fighting for fifth in NH, behind Romney, Paul, Huntsman, and Santorum.

    Gingrich is the only one of Iowa's second tier who can break into the top 3 in NH, and he won't win: a fourth-place finish in Iowa will leave him fighting with Paul and Huntsman for second in NH. And if Gingrich shows the least sign of life in NH, Romney's PAC will dump a metric ton of negative ads on Gingrich in NH, just like it did in Iowa, and it'll be just as effective.

    This one's over, even before anyone votes. Which is really kinda stupid, but that's politics in the new millennium for you.

  • exlibra on January 01, 2012 6:16 PM:

    The NYTimes has a nice overview of Iowa caucuses, its history, statistics, peculiarities, etc including some info on how those things apply to the current race.

  • Doug on January 01, 2012 9:36 PM:

    Prup (aka Jim Benton), a very interesting post that I had to read several times before I realized exactly what you were saying. I think.
    Democrats stand a very good chance of retaking the House, maintaining control of the Senate AND re-electing Mr. Obama in 2012, but only IF we employ Mr. Dean's 50-state strategy and presume that ALL elections MUST be contested.
    Or did I get wrong?