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Santorum Appears to Have Momentum Going into Tuesday Night

The final Des Moines Register poll shows the former Pennsylvania senator rising in Iowa. Also, PJ Media Is Going to Iowa.

by
Rich Baehr

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January 1, 2012 - 7:39 pm

The Des Moines Register is out with its final poll before the Iowa caucus on Tuesday night. Its survey shows Mitt Romney ahead by 2 points over Ron Paul with Rick Santorum in third place. The poll, reflecting interviews with 602 likely voters (mostly Republicans, with some independents), was taken over four days from December 27 to December 30.

The results of the Des Moines Register poll almost exactly match  the results of an NBC-Marist poll and a Rasmussen poll, each taken on a single day within the four-day window and a CNN/Time survey taken a few days earlier. Two other surveys by Insider Advantage and Public Policy Polling (PPP) that were taken in the same time frame have similar results, but show Newt Gingrich a bit stronger and Rick Santorum a bit weaker.

The leading themes of the last week’s news stories on the Iowa race have been that Gingrich has been badly hurt by an assault of negative ads from Ron Paul and a pro-Romney PAC, and that Santorum, who has worked the state the hardest, has finally begun to emerge as the favorite of the state’s evangelical Christians, generally thought to be 40-50% of those who will show up on Tuesday night. In addition, there have been more sustained attacks on Ron Paul for his foreign policy isolationism and for the racist content of some newsletters that went out under his name over a decade back.

Signs of Santorum’s emergence include endorsements by some leading evangelicals, larger crowds, and the first negative ads or criticism directed against him by opponents, most notably from Rick Perry, who is competing with Santorum for some of the same voters.

The Des Moines Register poll, in an unusual announcement, revealed that Santorum was much stronger in interviews that were conducted on the final two days of the four-day survey period than in the first two days. Santorum placed second to Romney in that later period. The overall results were Romney at 24%, Paul at 22%, and Santorum at 15%. But in the final two days, Romney was at 24%, Paul was down to 18%, and Santorum was at 21%.  If the same number of interviews were conducted in the first two days as the last two, that would mean Paul actually led at 26% in the first two days, and Santorum was well down the list at 9% for these days. Given that only 602 interviews were conducted in the four-day period, and the survey at that size had a margin of error of 4%, it is easy to read too much into the apparent dramatic upswing for Santorum in the final two days of the survey, when perhaps 300 interviews were conducted and the margin of error was even higher.

Several of the other surveys mentioned earlier all showed  Santorum in the mid teens earlier in the week. It is a good bet that Santorum’s numbers have been climbing all week, but a move from 9% to 21% from one two-day period to the next is highly unlikely.

The Des Moines Register’s final survey before the Iowa caucus has had a good track record in recent presidential cycles. The breakdown of the final two day results may have been an attempt to keep the paper’s track record intact of spotting late trends. In 2004, their final poll showed Howard Dean and Rich Gephardt dropping off , and John Kerry and John Edwards  rising. In 2008, the paper’s survey showed Barack Obama jumping into the lead.

Santorum’s single-minded focus on winning in Iowa is reminiscent of John Edwards’ campaign in the state in 2008. Edwards, competing with two far better-funded campaign machines — Hillary Clinton’s and Obama’s — hoped a surprise Iowa win would knock back Obama and make Edwards the principal alternative to Clinton for the remainder of the race.

Only in Iowa did Edwards even register in the top tier in the  polls, and he counted on momentum from a victory in the Hawkeye State to carry over to New Hampshire. Santorum barely registers in national polls, or in any state  poll other than Iowa (except for his home state of Pennsylvania). In New Hampshire, where Mitt Romney has led in every survey, Santorum is in sixth place in the RCP average, with just over 3% support. For Santorum to emerge, he would likely need to win in Iowa and have Perry and Bachmann drop out after poor performances there. In New Hampshire, it might not help much, since evangelical voters represent a far smaller share of all GOP and independent voters than they do in Iowa. When the primary cycle moves South, Gingrich is likely to be stronger among conservative voters than Santorum.

Santorum has other issues to deal with. While he likes to crow about his two Senate victories in a blue state, he lost by 18% as an incumbent in 2006. I am unfamiliar with any incumbents who lost by more in a Senate race. Santorum also has a problem with gays. While Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin says he is swimming against the gay rights tide, the evidence suggests worse than that. Santorum has compared consensual gay sex to beastiality, as practices that have no right to privacy and can be regulated by the states. He also rudely responded to a gay soldier at an earlier debate, failing even the common courtesy of thanking the Marine for his service while referring to gays serving in the military (as they have in many countries, including Israel) as social experimentation in the armed forces.

A little known fact is that the exit polls in 2008 showed that gays were one of the few groups in which GOP performance improved from 2004 to 2008, reaching 31% in the Obama/McCain race, 10% higher than the support for McCain among Jewish Americans, and about the same as McCain’s support level among Hispanics and young voters aged 18-29.

It is difficult to imagine that the Republicans would nominate a racist candidate in 2012, and it is hard to see how nominating someone who may be homophobic is any better.

At this point, it is likely that Romney will finish no worse than third in Iowa, and could win. But he does not need to win in Iowa to win in New Hampshire, or to stay in the race for the long haul. Ron Paul, with his dedicated supporters, is also likely to be around for a long time, whether he finishes first, second, or third in Iowa. To the extent Paul finishes third, he may be less the focus of attacks from his rivals, particularly in New Hampshire where there are many libertarians. Jon Huntsman is banking on New Hampshire as his breakout state, but he is still way behind Romney after many days of campaigning there. Michele Bachmann will likely be the next one to end her campaign, since she is now below 10% in some Iowa surveys and may finish a disappointing sixth in a state where she once had high hopes of winning. Rick Perry has little  chance to be nominated if he finishes no better than 4th in Iowa. Newt Gingrich will likely continue on, even if he finishes 5th in Iowa, though a weak performance in Iowa will badly damage his numbers in the upcoming states.

At the moment, there is a little more clarity in the race than was the case a week or two  ago. Rick Santorum will have an opportunity to consolidate the evangelical vote in Iowa, and perhaps a few other states, much as Mike Huckabee did in 2008, when he won Iowa. Ron Paulis facing more scrutiny, which may be putting a ceiling on his numbers. And Mitt Romney, steady as you go, seems to be moving forward and remains the favorite for the nomination.

Also, PJ Media Is Going to Iowa.

Richard A. Baehr is the co-founder and chief political correspondent for the American Thinker. For his day job, he has been a health care consultant for many years doing planning and financial analyses for providers.
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