PELLA, IOWA—I closed out 2011 Saturday with a bit of good luck after stumbling upon a mythical creature: a undecided Republican caucus voter who had yet to be interviewed by one of the major news outlets. With 1,500 national and international reporters in the heartland for the Iowa caucuses, it's a coveted, rare find. In Marshalltown the previous night, I watched as The Washington Post's Jason Horowitz rushed to intercept The Atlantic's Molly Ball as she turned her tape recorder on a voter he had already selected for a profile. After a Mitt Romney event Thursday in Mason City, a reporter friend and I noted that we had both previously interviewed Beth, a high-school teacher from Clear Lake.
MARSHALLTOWN, IOWA—Rick Santorum has bounced up to third in recent Iowa polls and he'll have to hope that this is still the case next Tuesday. The winner of the GOP primary contest in the Iowa caucuses is often not the eventual nominee, but the vote helps weed out candidates who don't really have a shot. The infographics on TV screens next week will detail the top three finishers and discard the remainder as a footnote before they concede defeat on January 4.
This week Occupy activists in Iowa, who’ve been urging caucus-goers to vote for “Uncommitted” in Tuesday’s Republican and Democratic caucuses, cried fowl when the Iowa GOP signaled it would only count votes for declared presidential candidates this year. Tuesday night, Iowans launched a “People’s Caucus,” at which they discussed policy resolutions and then broke up into “dispreference groups” based on which candidates they were most eager to demonstrate against. Activists were arrested at campaign offices and at a Wells Fargo, which they had linked back to a Romney office via a cardboard “pipeline” representing the cash flow from the bank to the candidate.
With Michele Bachmann’s campaign dying in one last burst of flames, and Newt Gingrich literally being reduced to tears as his poll numbers plummet, the most important question in Iowa might be who comes in third next Tuesday behind likely frontrunners Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. A new NBC-Marist poll (see below) has Gingrich and the Ricks, Santorum and Perry, bunched together at around 15 percent.
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.
Rick Santorum might have lost his most famous battles—not just for re-election as senator from Pennsylvania in 2006, but also against Dan Savage’s icky re-definition of his name. But he could be winning the contest to become the GOP’s right-wing alternative to Mitt Romney. In yesterday’s Time/CNN poll, the social-values crusader registered 16 percent in Iowa, vaulting him ahead of Governor Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich.
At this point in the game, with less than week before the caucuses, you can safely turn to polls of Iowa Republicans for an accurate gauge of where each candidate stands. According to the latest survey from the American Research Group, Mitt Romney has jumped to the front of the pack with 22 percent support, as Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich fall to 16 percent and 17 percent, respectively. When placed in context with other polls from other firms, Romney is clearly on the upswing. Here’s Talking Points Memo with its average. The black line is Romney:
Given the historically low approval ratings of the current Congress—and House Republicans in particular—it’s not unreasonable to think that the chamber as a whole is in for an electoral reckonning next November.
Pundits can't decide whether the future looks bright for the American economy, or the new year will bring doomsday. On the positive side, unemployment compensation claims are at their lowest levels in more than three years, housing sales are up, the stock market is making a comeback, and confidence in the economy is growing. On the negative side, there's Europe. If the continent drops into a big recession, the United States is in danger of losing the small economic gains it won in the past year.
DES MOINES, IOWA—Ron Paul drew another large, enthusiastic crowd here last night. Carrying homemade "End the Fed" banners and donning t-shirts emblazoned with "Ron Paul Revolution," hundreds of people packed into the Knapp Animal Learning Center (sadly, there were no animals) on the grounds of the Iowa State Fair for a veterans rally. When Paul visited the State Fair in late August, his speech at the Des Moines Register's traditional soapbox got little attention as crowds gathered anxiously to hear new frontrunner Michele Bachmann and speculated about the imminent entry of the Texas governor Rick Perry. Now, Paul is leading most Iowa polls and has earned a level of ground support that has eluded the other candidates in Iowa.
Congress had debt on the brain in 2011—fights over the debt ceiling, the Supercommittee, the Bush tax cuts, and voucherizing Medicare—but it amounted to just talk. It was a weird issue to focus on in the year before a big election, since most voters find unemployment and the general economy more important problems to tackle than the federal deficit. And, it turns out that this obsession with the debt was a bad idea for more than Congress' approval rating.
GRINNELL, IOWA—It looks as though we can safely dismiss a Santorum surge or a Perry reboot. For Romney, the polls hang steady just under a week before the Iowa caucuses, according to Public Policy Polling. Ron Paul maintains his lead over Mitt Romney by a 24-20 margin, statistically unchanged from the 23-20 percent gap last week. But Newt Gingrich's support has disappeared. The former House Speaker held a lead in the Midwestern state two weeks ago, but has now dropped down to third place at 13 percent, only slightly above Michele Bachmann at 11 percent and the two Ricks at 10 percent.
As every good conservative knows, lawsuit abuse is destroying America. Greedy plaintiffs filing frivolous suits, tying up the courts with cases they have no hope of winning -- you've heard it many times before. Which brings us to Rick Perry:
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who along with Newt Gingrich didn’t submit the required number of signatures to petition to make it onto the Virginia Republican presidential primary ballot, is taking the fight for ballot access to federal court.
In 1994, University of Michigan rejected Jennifer Gratz, setting in motion the overturning of University of Michigan's affirmative action admissions policy. Now she's challenging a black student who's protesting her own rejection.