After reading the most recent CBS/New York Times poll, I think it’s time for an update on what is going on here in the great state of Iowa.
First, let’s look at the Democratic candidates. The current poll shows that Hillary Clinton has a slim (25 percent to 23 percent) lead over John Edwards, with Barack Obama trailing both at 22 percent. While these numbers are slightly off from the Real Clear Politics average, they’re not so bad as to warrant ignoring the poll as a whole. For example, it does reinforce the fact that Hillary is leading here in Iowa, albeit with a slim majority. It also reinforces my personal impression (having talked to several Democratic friends around the state) that John Edwards is the second place candidate.
Now, let’s move on to the Republicans. The CBS/NY Times poll shows that, once again, Mitt Romney has a pretty good lead over the other candidates here in the state. He’s currently at 27 percent. But what is most interesting is the recent “surge” of Mike Huckabee.
Huckabee had been polling in the single digits here for some time, but ever since the Straw Poll his stock among Iowa voters has been rising. So much so that he’s taken the second place position, ahead of more “top tier” candidates such as Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and John McCain. Again, while the CBS/ NY Times poll is a little different from the Real Clear Politics average, it’s pretty close.
Why is the Hawkeye State being watched so closely by the media? Well, Iowa is about as evenly divided as a state can get. It is neither a red nor a blue state, and it hasn’t had a remarkable bipartisan history. Yes, there are certain portions of the state that are solidly red or blue, but overall the state is a pretty good litmus test of how well (or how poorly) a candidate can expect to do in the campaign proper. Historically, if a candidate can win Iowa, then he or she stands a pretty good chance of swaying voters who are on the fence.
But that is a theory that’s being put to the test this campaign season. As the CBS/NY Times poll suggests, the first choice by voters isn’t necessarily the one they think is the most electable. For example, on the Republican side, most Iowans are backing Romney. Yet they clearly don’t think he could win the general election. They see Giuliani as the most electable candidate. The same holds true on the left, where Clinton is looked at as the most electable of the top three, but Obama and Edwards having more to offer regular Iowans. Whether that is true or not remains to be seen, but it shows you that voters are, for the most part, putting ideology first and realism a very close second.
One more thing of interest to note in this poll is the number of people whose minds aren’t made up. Normally by the this time in the campaign season I’ve made by decision months beforehand. That’s not been the case this time around: I’ve only just made up my mind in the last few days. But reading this poll, it’s pretty clear that I’m not the only Republican in Iowa struggling with the decision. Among likely caucus-goers, 57 percent say it’s too early to say who their choice will be.
Finally, the issue that is highest on the list for Republican voters is illegal immigration, the very thing so many pundits said would not be an issue this election. Well, trust me, it’s going to be a big issue, no matter who the nominees are. Iowa has been having some serious illegal immigration problems over the last few years, and it’s quickly reaching a tipping point.
I know a lot of people say that those opposed to illegal immigrants are xenophobes or racists, but that’s not the case here at all. Iowans don’t have a problem with immigrants in the least. We are a state that is extremely hospitable, almost to a fault. We gladly welcome virtually anybody who comes here. But we won’t roll out the welcome mat it if they’re breaking the law and putting a strain on society. Iowans want to see people fill out the necessary papers, go through the process legally, and then come to the state. If they do that, we’ll be glad to call them “neighbor.”
We’ve got about 50 days to go until the caucuses kick off, and I can’t recall a campaign season being this close. The results of the caucuses may very well end up coming down to which candidate can get the most grassroots supporters to the individual caucuses around the state and sway voters on the spot. It should make for some interesting stories as the campaigns continue to unfold.
Brian Pickrell blogs at Liberty Pundit.