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Iowa Evangelicals at Loss in Search for Candidate

By Erin McPike - November 30, 2011

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Privately, those close to Romney and Gingrich are working furiously to tamp down expectations. Romney has been hit hard in Iowa and hasn’t had a big enough operation there to ward off an onslaught, and Gingrich is just beginning to staff up there and doesn’t have an operation that could swamp the caucuses.

Indeed, the Romney campaign planted a flag in New Hampshire and hopes to maintain its hefty lead there (now under siege from Gingrich).

Romney is also the candidate with the most fleshed-out organization in Florida. Gingrich’s team, according to advisers, hopes for a standoff against Romney in the Sunshine State and is now putting the pieces in place for a campaign that could go all the way to the convention in Tampa.

The Iowa wildcard might be Rick Perry, whom a number of political operatives are still eyeing closely because they believe he could revive his candidacy and flagging poll numbers just in time for the caucuses. On the other hand, many conservatives are still watching Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann the closest and believe one or the other has the ability to break out, despite lagging near the bottom of the polls.

Indeed, conservative Iowa radio host Steve Deace authored a long memo to religious conservatives in the state, begging them to choose between the two.

“Unless one of them can successfully close the sale to those voters, it is likely the end result will be a Balkanizing of this key constituency that will benefit Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, or Mitt Romney,” he wrote. “The other end result would be Christian pro-family/pro-life voters failing to take advantage of the most unpopular Democrat incumbent president running for re-election since 1980.”

Bachmann, who enjoyed a brief burst of energy and the lead this summer, is in fifth place with about 7 percent support, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average there. But by this point in the last presidential primary, the victorious Huckabee had already made his move and was polling a close second to Romney. Romney garnered 26.4 percent in RCP’s average at this point in 2007, and Huckabee was just behind with 23.6 percent, which suggests that Bachmann has a steep climb if she hopes to pull off an upset. In an attempt to do just that, she completed a day of interviews on Christian radio stations Monday.

Tea Party activist Ryan Rhodes said that “both Bachmann and Santorum have a lot to prove as to who can take it the distance, but both will do better than projected.”

The problem is that they don’t have much time. While they’re scrambling to win in just that one state, their leading competitors are largely taking a pass on Iowa and looking to move on, which may mean that a victory in the Hawkeye State just won’t pack much punch. 

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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