Decision Time in Iowa

Room for an upset with 41 percent of voters undecided.

Decision time has arrived for Iowa’s Republican voters. The polls generally show Mitt Romney in first, followed by Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, but there is room for an upset with 41% of voters saying they haven’t made up their minds. The field will likely be thinner tomorrow as at least one candidate will probably drop out after a disappointing showing.

Mitt Romney has a lead of just 1.3% in the RealClearPolitics poll average. Romney is predicting victory, but a first-place finish isn’t vital to his campaign. One of his aides explained, “Iowa is about eliminating Gingrich and Perry without us having to spend a lot of money to do so.” Apparently, Santorum and Paul aren’t viewed as real threats. Mitt Romney has a huge lead in New Hampshire and seems certain to win there. He is also ahead nationally.

A victory by Ron Paul is a distinct possibility. He is right on Romney’s heels in the polls and his non-Republican supporters can show up and declare themselves as members of the party just to support him. InsiderAdvantage has him statistically tied for first at 22.4% to Romney’s 22.7. That poll has Santorum in third at 18%, Gingrich at 16%, Perry at 9.6%, Bachmann at 5.8% and Huntsman at 1.8%. Public Policy Polling has Ron Paul with 20%, one ahead of Romney. A win in Iowa could give Paul momentum into New Hampshire, where most polls have him in a distant second place to Romney.

Rick Santorum is the latest candidate to surge, bringing a huge boost in fundraising and momentum after lingering in the single digits for the entire campaign. The polls consistently show him in third place, but one had him in second place at 17%, seven behind Romney and third ahead of Ron Paul. The aforementioned Public Policy Polling survey that shows Paul in first has Santorum in third, only one point behind Romney and two behind Paul, making it essentially a three-way tie.

Newt Gingrich’s massive leads in the polls have collapsed as every other presidential candidate took aim at him. About 45% of all television ads in Iowa became attack ads against Gingrich. He admits that he did not respond quickly or decisively enough against them. When asked whether he felt he was “Swift-Boated,” referring to a campaign that raised questions about Senator John Kerry’s military service in 2004, he said he felt “Romney-boated.”

The polls now consistently show Gingrich in fourth in Iowa. He is in second nationally but the results out of Iowa will probably change that. The latest American Research Group poll is more favorable to Gingrich, having him only one point behind Santorum and two behind Paul. He has taken a much sharper tone against Romney now and says, “Here is my simple tag line: Somebody who will lie to you to get you to be president will lie to you when they are president.”

Almost all of the polls show Rick Perry in fifth place in the state. He is going after Santorum now as a “serial pork barrel earmarker” and he is criticizing him for voting eight times to raise the debt ceiling. The Perry campaign has put together an ad calling him “unelectable” and Perry says, “This guy has proven that he can’t win races when it matters against a liberal Democrat.” It is hard to see how Perry survives a fourth place finish, but one poll had him in third place, one ahead of Gingrich and only one behind Santorum.

Michele Bachmann won the Ames, Iowa Straw Poll, briefly bringing her into the top-tier, but now she’s languishing in second-to-last in the polls. Jon Huntsman is in last place in Iowa, but he has focused his campaign solely on New Hampshire. The polls in that state, the first primary, show him in a very tight contest with Gingrich for third place.

The current polls give reason for the Romney campaign to be happy and to be concerned. He could win both Iowa and New Hampshire, which would “almost certainly seal the Republican nomination for himself,” in the words of Chris Cillizza and Aaron Blake. The rise of Rick Santorum further splits the vote of those who are against Romney. On the other hand, if Bachmann and/or Perry drop out after Iowa, it will help consolidate the anti-Romney vote.

If the polls prove accurate, Rick Santorum will get the frontrunner’s treatment immediately after the results in Iowa come in. There is a debate on Saturday, January 7, at 9 PM EST on ABC. Another will be held the next morning at 9 AM EST on NBC. If Santorum can’t handle the heat, then another candidate could make a comeback. Jon Huntsman might get a fresh look if one or more other candidates drop out, giving him more time on the stage.

The results in Iowa today can kill a campaign or inject it with new life. Tomorrow will be a different race than it was today.

Freedom Center pamphlets now available on Kindle: Click here.