DES MOINES, IOWA—Iowa is a big state, nearly the size of England, so driving between various Republican campaign stops leaves a lot of time for the mind to wander. I've spent the past few weeks following the candidates' buses on the interstates to the big cities and on the two-lane highways to small towns. I've noticed a trend that seems to hold true in all of Iowa's various towns: an absence of lawn signs.
In past years, it's been easy to gauge support for candidates by noting the signs that dot people's lawns. During the 2008 caucuses, I lived in a small liberal outpost, and it was impossible not to notice neighbors trying to outdo each other in displaying their support for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. But so far this year, I've spotted far more anti-choice signs and billboards than lawn ornaments for presidential contenders (and those pro-faith signs are far less common in the Midwest than most East Coasters likely imagine). A handful dot the landscape (with Ron Paul holding the clear advantage in this department), though they'd be easy to miss if one were paying attention to traffic rather than scanning the side of the road.
Why the lack of love for the 2012ers? The slow start to the on-the-ground campaign plays a factor. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that the traditional barnstorming bus tours were launched, and none of the candidates save Rick Santorum bothered to engage in the coffee-shop town halls or grocery-store meet and greets where most voters would acquire the campaign's yard signs.
Iowa Republicans also seem far more uncertain of their favorite candidate than in years past. They've bounced from one candidate to another in polls this fall and winter, and that picture becomes even clearer chatting with the folks who show up for campaign events. They like a lot of the candidates and might tilt toward voting for one contender or another, but besides the Ron Paul fanatics, most people aren't enthusiastic enough about any of the candidates to turn their homes into a political statement.