Even though the Republican presidential nomination is set to kick off when Iowans head to their local schools and community centers for the caucuses in just 30 days, I'm skeptical of current polls. Over the weekend, the Des Moines Register found that 64 percent of likely caucus goers have yet to see any of the candidates in person. Besides the national debates, they haven't seen many on their TV screens either; Ron Paul was the only candidate with significant commercial buys earlier in the year, and the rest of the contenders are only now beginning to purchase airtime. Last time, 40 percent of Republican voters didn't make their final decision on whom they would support until the last week during a campaign that saw much heavier on-the-ground activity.
The next few rounds of commercial buys—both positive ones and negative ads from opposing campaigns—could strongly sway perceptions of the candidates. Newly minted front-runner Newt Gingrich debuted his first Iowa commercial today. His campaign is spending $250,000 to put the ad on the air, according to the Des Moines Register. The ad features a series of stock shots from the "real" America, while Gingrich sits in an office and narrates his vision for restoring America. It's pretty standard fare as far as political ads go; statements like "shrink government and the regulations that strangle our businesses" and "Throw out the tax code and replace it with one that is simple and fair," could be said by any of the 2012 candidates. The only thing that separates Newt's commercial from your typical campaign ad is the complete absence of any shots of the former House speaker on the campaign trail, likely because Gingrich has devoted little time to the small-town stump speeches that traditionally defined winning campaigns.