Iowa Still Wide Open for GOP Field

Iowa Still Wide Open for GOP Field

By Scott Conroy - October 6, 2011

Momentum may be the most prized asset for a presidential candidate in Iowa, but with less than three months likely remaining before caucus day, none of the Republican contenders seems to have garnered much of it.

While Rick Perry maintains a slight lead in the latest RealClearPolitics average of Iowa polls, a reliable survey of likely caucus-goers in the nation's first voting state has not been conducted since August.

Most telling of how wide open the race remains in the Hawkeye State, not one Republican candidate has cracked the 30 percent barrier in any of the last five state polls included in the RCP average.

“My feeling on the ground talking to Iowa Republicans is that they are still very much open to more than one candidate, and some of that is due to not meeting everyone on their list,” said Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn. “It is incredibly fluid around the state. There’s still very much a dating aspect to which candidate a caucus-goer may end up with, and they’re not necessarily married to a candidate yet.”

Despite his recent slide in national polls, Perry will likely remain the top target for the rest of the GOP field to set their collective sights on in Iowa, where a victory remains a critical piece of the well-funded Texan’s overall strategy.

The Perry campaign has dispatched seven field staffers to various regions of the state, and the candidate plans to ramp up his Iowa travel.

Perry will make stops in the conservative western region of the state on Friday and Saturday and will return to Iowa following the next GOP debate in New Hampshire on Tuesday. Plans are also in the works for a third Iowa visit toward the end of the month.

“You want to organize, organize, organize and get hot at the end, and that’s what’s guiding our principles here,” said Perry’s Iowa strategist, Bob Haus. “The caucuses are a mathematical equation. You’ve got to identify your people and make sure they turn out. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, and our guys are doing it.”

Many Iowa political observers predict high turnout for this cycle’s GOP caucuses, pointing to a particularly intense antipathy toward President Obama among rank-and-file Republicans, who are eager to begin the process of choosing a challenger to take him on next November.

Next year will mark the first time since 1996 that there will not be a contested Democratic caucus, which will likely translate into particularly comprehensive media interest in the Republican event.

In 2008, Mike Huckabee benefited from a high-turnout caucus and road a wave of grass-roots support among evangelicals to victory over the much better-funded and better-organized Mitt Romney.

But complicating this cycle’s Iowa puzzle are the fiscal issues that have dominated the debate to a much greater extent than four years ago. And even among evangelicals, who made up 60 percent of the Iowa caucus electorate in 2008, no Republican candidate has emerged as the consensus choice.

Herman Cain generated significant early buzz in the state last winter and spring but has not made a concerted effort to build off of it. Despite his impressive rise in national and state polls, he has a long way to go in doing the necessary groundwork to win in Iowa -- which he has not set foot in since August.

“Herman Cain is squelching his opportunity by not campaigning here,” said Tim Albrecht, the communications director for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. “Iowa would be a friendly state to him, and his silence is deafening.”

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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