Commentary Magazine


Topic: Iowa caucus

How Inevitable is Romney?

With just one week to go before the Iowa caucuses, uncertainty is the word that can best describe the situation in the Republican presidential race. The polls have been all over the place in recent months as one candidate after another took turns trying on the mantle of frontrunner. Newt Gingrich’s moment appears to have come and gone. The affections of the social conservative and Tea Party wings of the party are split between three candidates who can’t seem to shake each other. Libertarian Ron Paul is making a splash — largely on the strength on non-GOP voters — but revelations about his extremist connections and hate-filled newsletters may limit his chances at a first place finish. Which leaves us with the same guy whom the media anointed as the frontrunner back in the spring as the most likely to be nominated: Mitt Romney.

New York Times statistical analyst Nate Silver asks today whether it is possible for Romney to lose. The answer is yes he can, but the odds still favor him for the same reason they have the past few months: none of the alternatives turned out to be viable. A poor showing in Iowa would be a setback for Romney, but it is still difficult to construct a scenario by which any of his rivals can chart a path to the nomination. For all of his manifest flaws as a candidate and his inability to convince conservatives that he is one of them, it’s hard to envision Romney losing at this point.

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With just one week to go before the Iowa caucuses, uncertainty is the word that can best describe the situation in the Republican presidential race. The polls have been all over the place in recent months as one candidate after another took turns trying on the mantle of frontrunner. Newt Gingrich’s moment appears to have come and gone. The affections of the social conservative and Tea Party wings of the party are split between three candidates who can’t seem to shake each other. Libertarian Ron Paul is making a splash — largely on the strength on non-GOP voters — but revelations about his extremist connections and hate-filled newsletters may limit his chances at a first place finish. Which leaves us with the same guy whom the media anointed as the frontrunner back in the spring as the most likely to be nominated: Mitt Romney.

New York Times statistical analyst Nate Silver asks today whether it is possible for Romney to lose. The answer is yes he can, but the odds still favor him for the same reason they have the past few months: none of the alternatives turned out to be viable. A poor showing in Iowa would be a setback for Romney, but it is still difficult to construct a scenario by which any of his rivals can chart a path to the nomination. For all of his manifest flaws as a candidate and his inability to convince conservatives that he is one of them, it’s hard to envision Romney losing at this point.

The worst-case scenario for Romney in Iowa would be for Newt Gingrich to finish first there. Such an outcome would undermine Romney’s argument for inevitability and give Gingrich momentum going into New Hampshire and South Carolina, the one state that the former speaker must win. But with Gingrich sinking in the polls as voters come to grips with his record, the next most likely first place finisher is someone who presents no long term threat to Romney: Ron Paul. Though a Paul victory would be embarrassing for Republicans and diminish the reputation of the Iowa caucus itself, the chances of the Texas congressman getting the nomination are nil.

The other possibility in Iowa is that one of the current members of the second tier was to pull off a last-minute upset victory. Given the volatility of the polls and the nature of the caucus, that is also not an impossible dream. Both Rick Santorum, who has shown some life after months of hard work in the state and Michele Bachmann, who won the Iowa Straw Poll back in August, have some ardent supporters, but they’re essentially competing for the same votes which may make it impossible for either to break through.

More intriguing is the possibility that Rick Perry, the third member of the conservative troika in Iowa, could somehow catch lightening in a bottle and vault to the top. A Perry win in Iowa could turn the race around and give him back some of the luster he lost virtually every time he opened his mouth in the GOP debates. But since he, too, is competing for the same voters as Santorum and Bachmann, it’s hard to see how he can do it. While it is not out of the question one of the three could ride a last-minute surge into third place all that would accomplish would be to prolong their campaigns. It would take a win in Iowa to make Republicans believe in any one of them, and that’s a long shot at best.

Which leaves us with just one more scenario: a Romney victory in Iowa. Silver estimates that the range of possible outcomes in the Hawkeye state for Romney to be from a high of 36 percent of the vote to a low of 8 percent. But the chances of him getting closer to the higher number are far greater than a lesser result. In the final days, enough Republicans may decide that voting for a loose cannon (Gingrich) or an extremist (Paul) is not the way to beat Barack Obama while the social conservative vote is split three ways. A Romney win in Iowa would not completely end the race before it has hardly begun, but it would take a lot of the mystery out of what would follow.

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The Iowa Evangelical Primary

Many Republicans have spent the last several months grousing that they don’t like the choices available to them in their party’s presidential contest. But if the polls are correct, it may be that one core GOP constituency has a completely different problem: they have too many appealing choices.

The ability of Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum to stay in the race though all are trailing badly in both polls of likely Iowa caucus-goers and national surveys is that each has managed to hold onto a loyal cadre of social conservatives. They are very different in their backgrounds, personalities and governing styles. But they share a devotion to social issues such as opposition to abortion, and the success of their candidacies depend on their ability to capture the lion’s share of the evangelical voters who propelled Mike Huckabee to an upset win in Iowa four years ago. They also share a problem: with all three hanging on, it is becoming increasingly apparent they will cancel each other out and ensure the victory of a Republican who doesn’t share their social passions.

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Many Republicans have spent the last several months grousing that they don’t like the choices available to them in their party’s presidential contest. But if the polls are correct, it may be that one core GOP constituency has a completely different problem: they have too many appealing choices.

The ability of Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum to stay in the race though all are trailing badly in both polls of likely Iowa caucus-goers and national surveys is that each has managed to hold onto a loyal cadre of social conservatives. They are very different in their backgrounds, personalities and governing styles. But they share a devotion to social issues such as opposition to abortion, and the success of their candidacies depend on their ability to capture the lion’s share of the evangelical voters who propelled Mike Huckabee to an upset win in Iowa four years ago. They also share a problem: with all three hanging on, it is becoming increasingly apparent they will cancel each other out and ensure the victory of a Republican who doesn’t share their social passions.

That is what caused the Family Leader’s Bob Vander Plaats to call all three this past weekend to ask them to consider forming a joint ticket with one of the others in this evangelical primary rather than seeing them go down fighting together on Jan. 3. Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley, of the Iowa Family Policy Center, wound up endorsing Santorum, a move that gave his flagging hopes a well-timed boost. But the message behind that futile appeal for unity on the right was not lost. It’s become clear that in the absence of a last minute withdrawal by one of the three, the opportunity for another Huckabee-style win for social conservatives is going to be lost.

That’s good news for the others in the race, especially Mitt Romney. With Newt Gingrich fading in no small measure due to his inability to close the sale with religious Christians, Romney may be left with only extremist libertarian Ron Paul as the competition for the top spot in Iowa. That won’t please social conservatives who have never warmed to the former Massachusetts governor. But with Perry, Bachmann and Santorum dividing approximately a quarter of Republicans between them, there doesn’t seem to be any way for any of the three to break and win.

Back in August when she took the Iowa Straw Poll, Bachmann seemed to have a stranglehold on the social conservative vote in the state where she was born. But the emergence of Perry took the wind out of her sails and she never recovered. Perry’s disastrous debate performances made his stay in the frontrunner’s seat brief, but his good humor has allowed him to retain enough support to hang on. Santorum has been working hard in Iowa, but up until the last week he has gotten little traction.

But for all of the gnashing of teeth among social conservatives about a missed opportunity, no one should think that there was a path to the nomination for any of these three even if two of them were to drop out right now. If, as Vander Plaats desired, only one of them were to be running in the caucus, that candidate would have, as Huckabee did, an excellent chance of taking first place with less than 30 percent of the vote.

But everything we know about Perry, Bachmann and Santorum tells us that even if one of them were to win in Iowa, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for them to parlay that into the national momentum needed to win the Super Tuesday and later primary states. Had he not opened his mouth too often during the debates and convinced most of the country that he was a fool, Perry had the resume and the ability mobilize southern and western conservatives in order to be the GOP nominee. But contrary to those predicting a revival for his hopes, that ship sailed even before Perry said “oops” about his famous memory lapse.

As for Bachmann and Santorum, though each has strengths, neither has mainstream appeal. Like Huckabee, an Iowa victory for either would be a case of one and done.

That leaves the outcome of the evangelical primary in Iowa to be something of an academic exercise. One of the trio might get enough votes to sneak into the top three and claim a victory of sorts. But no matter which of them gets the most votes, evangelicals will remember this year’s Iowa caucus as a case of an abundance of choices that ensured their influence would not be decisive.

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Inside Romney’s Rise to Top of GOP Heap

The latest survey of Iowa Republican caucus goers confirms the rapid decline in Newt Gingrich’s fortunes. A Rasmussen poll conducted Monday and published today shows Mitt Romney vaulting into the lead with 25 percent, Ron Paul in second with 20 percent, and Newt Gingrich lagging behind in third with 17 percent.

There are a few notable elements about this poll. First is the continuation of Gingrich’s slide which shows him with only about half as much support as he had just about a month ago in Iowa. Second are the steady gains that both Romney and Paul have made with each advancing 2 points in the last week. Third is the fact that for the first time, Rick Santorum is finally gaining some traction in Iowa and most specifically passing Michele Bachmann. But last and perhaps most significant is the fact that Romney is, according to Rasmussen, leading among those voters who “consider themselves Republicans,” while Paul is ahead among non-Republicans likely to participate in the caucus. That bodes well for the former Massachusetts governor and illustrates again how implausible Paul’s hopes for the nomination really are.

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The latest survey of Iowa Republican caucus goers confirms the rapid decline in Newt Gingrich’s fortunes. A Rasmussen poll conducted Monday and published today shows Mitt Romney vaulting into the lead with 25 percent, Ron Paul in second with 20 percent, and Newt Gingrich lagging behind in third with 17 percent.

There are a few notable elements about this poll. First is the continuation of Gingrich’s slide which shows him with only about half as much support as he had just about a month ago in Iowa. Second are the steady gains that both Romney and Paul have made with each advancing 2 points in the last week. Third is the fact that for the first time, Rick Santorum is finally gaining some traction in Iowa and most specifically passing Michele Bachmann. But last and perhaps most significant is the fact that Romney is, according to Rasmussen, leading among those voters who “consider themselves Republicans,” while Paul is ahead among non-Republicans likely to participate in the caucus. That bodes well for the former Massachusetts governor and illustrates again how implausible Paul’s hopes for the nomination really are.

Examining these trends in greater detail, it’s clear that Gingrich’s decline is no longer in doubt. Since his campaign was always something of a house of cards, the final two weeks before the caucus may see his support decline even further. That will mean not only an ignominious end for what seemed only a month ago to be a campaign headed to victory in Iowa but the harbinger of a swift end to his hopes elsewhere.

Some may interpret Romney’s progress as more evidence of his inability to gain more than a quarter of the vote, but his slow creep toward the top illustrates that he has reversed the negative momentum that seemed to stall his campaign a few weeks ago. Paul’s gains will be greeted with dismay by mainstream Republicans who are unhappy about this extremist’s prominence in the party, but if he is taking away votes from conservatives who want anyone but Romney, that will merely strengthen the former Massachusetts governor in the long run because any outcome in Iowa other than a Gingrich win makes his nomination more likely.

As for Santorum, it appears his months of beating the bushes in Iowa and going to every county in the state to appeal to social conservatives is finally paying off. His support has doubled in the last month and, though it still leaves him with only 10 percent, it is clear that five percent probably came from Gingrich. Even more, it finally pushes him ahead of Bachmann, who is largely competing for the same voters as the former Pennsylvania senator. Bachmann’s decline from nine percent a week ago to six today is significant. Combined with the endorsement from a major evangelical figure in the state (which did not figure into responses in this poll) this gives Santorum hope that his momentum will grow in the campaign’s final days. I have already written that I thought one of those two will finish in the top three in Iowa and I’m standing by that prediction, though it appears more likely now the one to do so will be Santorum rather than Bachmann (as I thought a couple of days ago).

Lastly, the figures that show Romney winning among Republican voters should pour cold water on the expectation that the party’s grass roots won’t support him. This may be more a matter of a belief in his greater electability over any of the other candidates than affection for Romney, but the effect is the same. Once Iowa and New Hampshire have finished voting, most of the next states up for competition won’t be open enrollment, which means the GOP core will decide this nomination.

This is also a reminder that support for Paul is not coming so much from Tea Party or social conservative activists but from more marginal and disaffected elements. One would hope that as more voters learn about the extremist nature of his views, and of his connection to hate literature, that his share of the vote would decline. But no matter what happens in Iowa, Paul still has no chance of winning over most Republicans. It also should illustrate my belief that the possibility of him running as a third party candidate is more of a threat to the Democrats than to the Republicans.

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Endorsement Bad News for Gingrich

I speculated earlier today that an endorsement from the influential Iowa social conservative group The Family Leader could be Newt Ginrich’s saving grace in the state. But unfortunately for Gingrich, he had no such luck. The Family Leader announced today that it’s staying neutral in the race, but the group’s prominent leaders, Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley, declared their support for Rick Santorum:

Iowa social conservative leaders Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley backed Rick Santorum for president Tuesday, giving the Pennsylvania senator’s tortoise-like campaign a nice boost in the run-up to the caucuses.

The Family Leader, the group led by Vander Plaats, is remaining officially neutral, though it suggested in a muddled statement that the endorsement has the implicit support of the group’s board (via Reid Epstein): “The Family Leader will remain neutral in this presidential campaign cycle, though the board has made a unanimous decision to allow Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley to make personal endorsements which reflect the board’s unanimity.”

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I speculated earlier today that an endorsement from the influential Iowa social conservative group The Family Leader could be Newt Ginrich’s saving grace in the state. But unfortunately for Gingrich, he had no such luck. The Family Leader announced today that it’s staying neutral in the race, but the group’s prominent leaders, Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley, declared their support for Rick Santorum:

Iowa social conservative leaders Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley backed Rick Santorum for president Tuesday, giving the Pennsylvania senator’s tortoise-like campaign a nice boost in the run-up to the caucuses.

The Family Leader, the group led by Vander Plaats, is remaining officially neutral, though it suggested in a muddled statement that the endorsement has the implicit support of the group’s board (via Reid Epstein): “The Family Leader will remain neutral in this presidential campaign cycle, though the board has made a unanimous decision to allow Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley to make personal endorsements which reflect the board’s unanimity.”

This is all the more devastating for Gingrich because Vander Plaats had reportedly been leaning toward endorsing him. By supporting Santorum instead, Vander Plaats is basically acknowledging that it would be too controversial within the evangelical movement for him to publicly back Gingrich.

The endorsement is also something of a rebuke to Rick Perry, who has recently been playing up his social conservative credentials in Iowa with a spate of culture-warrior-themed TV ads.

As for Santorum, the endorsement could be the spark he needs to catch fire in the state and fill the “not-Romney” void left by Gingrich’s ongoing downfall. Voters are hungry for someone to replace Gingrich — only 35 percent of Iowa voters have settled on a candidate, according to the latest CNN poll — and with the caucuses just two weeks away, the timing couldn’t be better for Santorum.

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Ron Paul’s Revenge: A Third-Party Run?

It’s not even worth pretending Ron Paul has any shot at winning the GOP nomination, even if he does manage to pull off a victory in Iowa. As Dave Weigel outlines at Slate, if Paul wins the caucuses it will probably only boost Romney’s chances of wrapping up the nomination.

Because Paul’s such a no-shot, most of his Republican critics are fairly blasé about his steady upward creep in the Iowa polls. But they should consider this nightmare scenario: Paul wins the caucuses. He then uses his heightened visibility – and his substantial cash reserves – to set the stage for a general election third-party run.

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It’s not even worth pretending Ron Paul has any shot at winning the GOP nomination, even if he does manage to pull off a victory in Iowa. As Dave Weigel outlines at Slate, if Paul wins the caucuses it will probably only boost Romney’s chances of wrapping up the nomination.

Because Paul’s such a no-shot, most of his Republican critics are fairly blasé about his steady upward creep in the Iowa polls. But they should consider this nightmare scenario: Paul wins the caucuses. He then uses his heightened visibility – and his substantial cash reserves – to set the stage for a general election third-party run.

If you don’t think he’ll have enough public support to cause serious damage in the general election, you’re fooling yourself. There will be plenty of Republican voters who will be disillusioned enough by Romney’s likely nomination to consider voting third-party, which would severely complicate the GOP’s path to the White House.

Politico reports that this possibility is already causing anxiety in Iowa Republican circles:

The most troubling eventuality that Iowa Republicans are bracing for is that Paul wins the caucuses only to lose the nomination and run as a third-party candidate in November — all but ensuring President Obama is re-elected.

“If we empower somebody who turns around and elects Obama, then that’s a major problem for the caucuses,” said Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).

Iowa Republicans have reason to be concerned. When Sean Hannity asked Paul, point blank, last week whether he would mount a third-party bid, the candidate said he had “no intention of doing that,” but was careful to keep the door open: “I don’t like absolutes — I don’t like to say: ‘I absolutely will never do such and such,’” Paul added.

Thanks to Republican primary rules that try to discourage exactly this scenario, Paul won’t be able to get on all the state ballots as a third-party candidate. But that may not matter. Paul’s an ideologue first, and the point of his run would be to get his message out to a broad national audience – winning is a secondary concern.

From Paul’s perspective, the time may seem ripe. He’s stated that this will be his final presidential run. And he’s even announced that he won’t run again for the congressional seat he’s held for more than a decade.

Once Republicans reject Paul and choose their nominee, will he cheerfully fade away into retirement and the quieter life of activist politics? Or will Paul – no longer beholden to the Republican Party that has long treated him like a sideshow – seek out third-party vindication at the GOP’s expense?

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Could a “Family Leader” Endorsement Save Gingrich in Iowa?

Attack ads have been eating away at Newt Gingrich’s support in Iowa, and the former Speaker blasted his fellow candidates yesterday for “going negative” in Davenport:

“If they run into one of these candidates, tell them they ought to be ashamed of themselves,” Gingrich said before roughly 150 people just outside of Cedar Rapids. “They ought to take this junk off the air.”

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Attack ads have been eating away at Newt Gingrich’s support in Iowa, and the former Speaker blasted his fellow candidates yesterday for “going negative” in Davenport:

“If they run into one of these candidates, tell them they ought to be ashamed of themselves,” Gingrich said before roughly 150 people just outside of Cedar Rapids. “They ought to take this junk off the air.”

And it is these negative attacks that are perhaps causing the recent drop in polls.

“Watch TV here for 2 days. You had all sorts of people, all sorts of these Super PACs who have been consistently running negative ads,” Gingrich admitted to a couple hundred people early Tuesday at an event in Davenport.

While the attack ads have certainly hurt him in the polls, Gingrich probably wouldn’t be losing steam so quickly if he had devoted more effort to building up his organization in Iowa and spent more time on retail politics. Leaving Iowa shortly after the last debate was a mistake – in fact, every day between now and the caucuses that Gingrich doesn’t spend in Iowa is a day wasted.

This isn’t necessarily a matter of money, either. As the Iowa Republican‘s Craig Robinson told The Hill, Gingrich has enough star power to draw a crowd in Iowa based on his name alone. And the lack of campaign cash hasn’t stopped Gingrich’s lesser-known opponents from doing the legwork in the state:

“How much money does it really take to campaign in Iowa?” Robinson said. “Even though it was bad right out the gate, Newt Gingrich drew crowds and could connect with voters. Rick Santorum is doing it without money, Michele Bachmann is doing it now. It’s not luxurious, it’s not necessarily fun, but it’s how you build lasting support. I think they’ve taken a really lazy approach.”

If the former not-Romney frontrunners have taught us anything in this race, it’s that it’s nearly impossible to make up the lost ground once your support starts dropping. Bachmann, Perry and Cain weren’t able to pull it off, and it wasn’t for lack of trying. Gingrich has just started to see his numbers fall off, and while he may not get back to the position he once was in, he may be able to do something to stop the bleeding.

An endorsement from an influential Iowa social conservative group – like the Family Leader, which will announce its endorsement decision today – could reinvigorate Gingrich’s campaign. Of course, he would have had a much better shot at winning the group’s support before his poll numbers started dropping. Now that Gingrich is no longer leading the field, it actually frees up the Family Leader to pick a candidate who’s less controversial with social conservatives, like Michele Bachmann or Rick Santorum.

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Is There Still Time for an Iowa Surprise?

I think Alana is right when she says the main beneficiary of Newt Gingrich’s free-fall in Iowa will be Mitt Romney. In fact, as I wrote earlier today, any outcome in the first caucus other than a Gingrich victory plays into Romney’s hands. Even if a dark horse candidate like Ron Paul takes the state or one of the second-tier conservatives sneaks into the winner’s circle, the net effect will be to destroy the former Speaker’s hopes for the nomination. That will leave Romney in effect the only mainstream candidate left standing and, though his path will not necessarily be easy, it would then be hard to imagine anyone else becoming the nominee.

But though the various polls of likely caucus-goers are showing Paul, Gingrich and Romney as the only potential winners, a word of caution is needed. Anyone who thinks this isn’t a volatile race whose outlines can change radically from week to week hasn’t been paying attention. It also needs to be pointed out that Tea Partiers and social conservatives who abandon a sinking Gingrich in the next two weeks have two other logical candidates they could turn to: Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum. That’s why the betting here is that one of those two will wind up edging into the top three or better in Iowa by the time the caucus is finished.

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I think Alana is right when she says the main beneficiary of Newt Gingrich’s free-fall in Iowa will be Mitt Romney. In fact, as I wrote earlier today, any outcome in the first caucus other than a Gingrich victory plays into Romney’s hands. Even if a dark horse candidate like Ron Paul takes the state or one of the second-tier conservatives sneaks into the winner’s circle, the net effect will be to destroy the former Speaker’s hopes for the nomination. That will leave Romney in effect the only mainstream candidate left standing and, though his path will not necessarily be easy, it would then be hard to imagine anyone else becoming the nominee.

But though the various polls of likely caucus-goers are showing Paul, Gingrich and Romney as the only potential winners, a word of caution is needed. Anyone who thinks this isn’t a volatile race whose outlines can change radically from week to week hasn’t been paying attention. It also needs to be pointed out that Tea Partiers and social conservatives who abandon a sinking Gingrich in the next two weeks have two other logical candidates they could turn to: Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum. That’s why the betting here is that one of those two will wind up edging into the top three or better in Iowa by the time the caucus is finished.

Any such outcome will be judged a big surprise at this point, especially since both Bachmann and Santorum seem stuck in the polls at around 10 percent in Iowa. But Bachmann, and to a lesser extent Santorum, have the right conservative credentials as well as an ability to connect with grassroots conservatives in a way Romney and Paul cannot.

It may seem like several years ago but, in fact, it was only four months ago that Michele Bachmann concluded a summer of unexpected prominence by winning the Iowa straw polls in Ames. But unfortunately for her, Rick Perry’s decision to announce that same day took the steam out of her victory. Though his boomlet soon fizzled, she never quite recovered.

Most pundits wrote Bachmann off after she went off the tracks with goofy accusations about Perry’s Texas vaccination program. But her evisceration of Newt Gingrich’s Washington cronyism and Freddie Mac boodle in last Thursday night’s debate not only may have greatly damaged the former Speaker, but it might also put a spark back into her campaign. Bachmann’s strong ties to Iowa and her concentration on the state made her a potential favorite there back when her candidacy was on the upswing. In the intervening months, Perry, Cain and Gingrich have all had their moments in the sun as the leading “not Romney” in the race. It may be too late for Bachmann to regain the momentum she had back in August, but a surge on her behalf is not out of the question.

The odds of Santorum taking advantage of Gingrich’s decline seem less likely. Santorum has been relentlessly beating the bushes in every county in the state trying to convince social conservatives to vote for him. Though both have obvious weaknesses that make their nomination highly implausible, Bachmann has a better chance of channeling some conservative enthusiasm.

Iowa voters have often confounded pollsters in the past, and any objective reading of the various polls ought to discourage anyone from making blithe predictions about the outcome on Jan. 3. But if Gingrich truly is in a free-fall, my hunch is that enough of his support will wind up in Bachmann’s column, which will allow her to declare a victory of sorts.

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Who Benefits From Newt’s Free-Fall?

As much as Newt Gingrich’s supporters wanted to believe his rise in the polls was more solid than Rick Perry’s or Herman Cain’s, it looks like his reign on top is coming to an end. Jonathan writes that Gingrich has plummeted to 14 percent in today’s Public Policy Polling Iowa survey, down from 22 percent last week and 27 the week before.

While we may just be witnessing the beginning of Gingrich’s collapse, his trajectory has seemed to follow the same pattern as the previous not-Romney frontrunners, who maintained their leads for a little more than a month before crashing spectacularly. But there are reasons why Gingrich’s fall may not be as dramatic as the other ones, according to the National Journal:

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As much as Newt Gingrich’s supporters wanted to believe his rise in the polls was more solid than Rick Perry’s or Herman Cain’s, it looks like his reign on top is coming to an end. Jonathan writes that Gingrich has plummeted to 14 percent in today’s Public Policy Polling Iowa survey, down from 22 percent last week and 27 the week before.

While we may just be witnessing the beginning of Gingrich’s collapse, his trajectory has seemed to follow the same pattern as the previous not-Romney frontrunners, who maintained their leads for a little more than a month before crashing spectacularly. But there are reasons why Gingrich’s fall may not be as dramatic as the other ones, according to the National Journal:

Gingrich’s candidacy does have several variables that could complicate whether he too falls just as hard. For one, it’s not readily apparent which candidate conservative voters could flock to instead. In every other case, when a GOP candidate flopped there was a concurrent rise in one of their rivals. Bachmann was succeeded by Perry, who was supplanted by Cain, who gave way to Gingrich.

So far, no candidate seems to be rising to fill in the “not-Romney” void that would be left by Gingrich. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul have gained a modest two points since last week’s PPP poll, while Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry and Jon Huntsman have basically remained flat.

Paul is now leading the field at 23 percent, with Romney on his heels at 20 percent. According to PPP, Romney has the most to gain from Gingrich’s fall:

One thing Romney really has going for him is more room for growth than Paul.  Among voters who say they’re not firmly committed to their current candidate choice, Romney is the second choice for 19 percent compared to 17 percent for Perry, 15 percent for Bachmann, and only 13 percent for Paul.   It’s particularly worth noting that among Gingrich (who seems more likely to keep falling than turn it around) voters, he’s the second choice of 30 percent compared to only 11 percent for Paul.

Predictably, Paul’s supporters are the most committed to their candidate. But Paul’s ceiling in Iowa is also lower than Romney’s. If no other candidate rises to take Gingrich’s place, and this remains a two-man race between Paul and Romney until the caucuses, then there’s a good chance Romney could come out of Iowa as the victor.

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Did the Gingrich Bubble Just Pop?

My view that Newt Gingrich’s performance in last Thursday’s debate would send him back to the pack was very much in the minority the day after the candidates clashed in Sioux City, Iowa. But a pair of new polls published this weekend shows the former Speaker’s large lead in the Hawkeye state is evaporating. For much of November and December, opinion surveys showed Republican voters were ignoring Gingrich’s troubling past and lack of electability. However, after getting pounded on his Freddie Mac fees and another week of heightened scrutiny about his inconsistent record, Gallup’s Daily Tracking Poll in Iowa showed Gingrich’s lead over Mitt Romney to have declined to four points (28 to 24 percent) from 15 points only two weeks ago (37 to 22 percent). Even more shocking, a Public Policy Poll now shows Gingrich dropping to third in Iowa with only 14 percent of the vote, while Ron Paul leads with 23 percent and Romney is listed as a close second with 20 percent.

The discrepancy between Paul’s showing in the two polls illustrates both the volatility and the difficulty of predicting this race. It is hard to square the fact that Gallup shows the extremist libertarian at only 10 percent while PPP has him in the lead. Nevertheless, both surveys agree on one thing. Gingrich’s surge is not only over; it may be about to be reversed. He is now rapidly losing ground in Iowa, and with no other debates scheduled before the Jan. 3 caucus and his campaign lacking organizational strength on the ground, it isn’t likely he’ll be able to recover. So no matter how well Paul does, the popping of Gingrich’s bubble is good news for Romney. Any outcome other than a Gingrich win in Iowa will set him up for a very good January.

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My view that Newt Gingrich’s performance in last Thursday’s debate would send him back to the pack was very much in the minority the day after the candidates clashed in Sioux City, Iowa. But a pair of new polls published this weekend shows the former Speaker’s large lead in the Hawkeye state is evaporating. For much of November and December, opinion surveys showed Republican voters were ignoring Gingrich’s troubling past and lack of electability. However, after getting pounded on his Freddie Mac fees and another week of heightened scrutiny about his inconsistent record, Gallup’s Daily Tracking Poll in Iowa showed Gingrich’s lead over Mitt Romney to have declined to four points (28 to 24 percent) from 15 points only two weeks ago (37 to 22 percent). Even more shocking, a Public Policy Poll now shows Gingrich dropping to third in Iowa with only 14 percent of the vote, while Ron Paul leads with 23 percent and Romney is listed as a close second with 20 percent.

The discrepancy between Paul’s showing in the two polls illustrates both the volatility and the difficulty of predicting this race. It is hard to square the fact that Gallup shows the extremist libertarian at only 10 percent while PPP has him in the lead. Nevertheless, both surveys agree on one thing. Gingrich’s surge is not only over; it may be about to be reversed. He is now rapidly losing ground in Iowa, and with no other debates scheduled before the Jan. 3 caucus and his campaign lacking organizational strength on the ground, it isn’t likely he’ll be able to recover. So no matter how well Paul does, the popping of Gingrich’s bubble is good news for Romney. Any outcome other than a Gingrich win in Iowa will set him up for a very good January.

Even if Ron Paul is able to parlay his strong ground game into a surprising victory in Iowa, there is no chance his out-of-the-mainstream views on foreign policy will enable him to win elsewhere. Any boost an extremist such as Paul gets in Iowa will only make Romney’s nomination look like a better idea to most conservatives who value beating President Obama over ideological purity.

Though Romney has had trouble connecting with grassroots Republicans, the notion that Gingrich could overcome his enormous negatives and cruise to the nomination may have been as much an illusion as the bubbles that briefly had Rick Perry and Herman Cain leading in the GOP contest. Even more to the point, a Gingrich collapse in Iowa will send his poll numbers in other crucial early primary states where he has been leading (such as South Carolina and Florida) tumbling as well. That may give Romney a chance to follow up his likely win in New Hampshire with victories in the south that could give him a stranglehold on the nomination.

The crowded field is also still an advantage for Romney. None of the second-tier candidates such as Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum or Rick Perry have shown any ability to break out so far. But with all of them hanging on to approximately ten percent of likely caucus-goers, the split on the right has prevented Gingrich from consolidating the lead he once held and gives Romney a chance at winning in Iowa with only a fifth of the electorate behind him. With PPP showing the former Massachusetts governor with far more room for growth than Paul — who appears to be maxing out the libertarian/youth/anti-war vote — that gives Romney a very decent chance at an outright plurality in Iowa.

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