The very last poll before the Iowa Caucuses, by Public Policy Polling, has shows an absolute dead heat between three candidates: Ron Paul is at 20%, Mitt Romney at 19%, and Rick Santorum at 18%. Let’s just quickly review where they are at:
Mitt Romney and the SuperPAC aligned with him have spent the most money on ads. Unlike in 2008 when Romney made it clear he was going all out in Iowa, he has tried to downplay expectations this time. Older voters prefer Mitt Romney in most polling. They want a winner. They want someone polished.
Rick Santorum seems to be the last not-Romney candidate to surge. This surge is so late in the process that the media has barely vetted him, and other candidates haven’t developed a line of attack against him. Just like Mike Huckabee in 2008 and Pat Buchanan in the 1990s, Santorum is showing that in Iowa there is a critical core of blue-collar social conservatives. Contrary to the caricature of Santorum in the media, he talks about more than abortion and same-sex marriage. He has been talking to Iowans about the reversing the decline of American industry and stagnating middle-class wages.
Ron Paul is filling several roles in this race. He is the candidate of a cadre of conservatives who think of themselves as “More Republican than the Republican party.” He is also a candidate of young voters who appreciate his zealous and principled stances. He also attracts some independent and liberal supporters who appreciate his foreign policy views. He is said to have the best trained and most disciplined political operation in the state.
Everyone else. Newt Gingrich peaked at exactly the wrong time – right when the other candidates were buying ad time on television. So Gingrich attracted almost all of the attack ads, and started to sink. Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Michelle Bachmann are splitting the vote of conservative voters. Their loss has been the gain of Santorum – who has no money and will have difficulty competing beyond Iowa. Which, in turn, benefits Romney.
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