Iowa caucus poll and endorsement news roundup

Six days before the Iowa caucuses, no Republican candidate has a clear lead, social conservatives remain scattered among several contenders, and new television commercials are launched on almost a daily basis. Numbers from the two latest opinion polls and news from the campaign trail are after the jump, along with some commercials currently showing on Iowa tv screens.

UPDATE: Added numbers from a new CNN poll and the latest Ron Paul tv ad.

Two new Iowa polls have been released in the past week. American Research Group surveyed 600 likely caucus-goers between December 19 and 22 and found three candidates clustered at the top:

Ron Paul 21 percent

Mitt Romney 20 percent

Newt Gingrich 19 percent

Rick Perry 9 percent

Michele Bachmann 8 percent

Jon Huntsman 6 percent

Rick Santorum 4 percent

other/undecided 12 percent

The same poll found Paul way ahead among respondents who said they were “probably” going to caucus (as opposed to “definitely” attending). Paul had 38 percent support in the “probably” group, followed by Romney (21 percent) and undecided (13 percent); everyone else was in single digits. But among the “definite” caucus-goers, 22 percent said they were backing Gingrich, followed by Romney (20 percent), Paul (17 percent), undecided (12 percent), Perry (10 percent), Bachmann (8 percent), and Huntsman and Santorum (5 percent each).

ARG finds Gingrich in a stronger position than other recent Iowa polls. Considering how Iowa television and radio stations have been bombarded with anti-Gingrich advertising this month, I think ARG is probably an outlier.

ARG’s poll probably understates Paul’s support. The sample consisted of 470 Republicans and 130 independents, so any Iowa Democrats planning to change their registrations to caucus for Paul would be invisible.

I’ll eat my hat if Huntsman ends up anywhere near 6 percent on January 3. I also doubt Santorum is that far below 10 percent.

Public Policy Polling surveyed 565 likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers on December 26 and 27. Tom Jensen posted toplines and a little analysis here, while complete results are in this pdf file. In contrast to ARG, PPP found Paul and Romney significantly ahead of the others:

Paul 24 percent

Romney 20 percent

Gingrich 13 percent

Bachmann 11 percent

Perry 10 percent

Santorum 10 percent

Jon Huntsman 4 percent

Buddy Roemer 2 percent

someone else/not sure 5 percent

About 72 percent of PPP’s respondents said they were “strongly committed” to the candidate of their choice, while 28 percent “might end up supporting someone else.” There’s no clear leader on second choices:

not sure/someone else 25 percent

Santorum 14 percent

Bachmann 12 percent

Gingrich 12 percent

Perry 11 percent

Romney 10 percent

Paul 9 percent

Huntsman 7 percent

Roemer 1 percent

PPP found Santorum to have the best favorability numbers (56 percent favorable opinion, 29 percent unfavorable). Bachmann, Perry, and Paul were also in net positive territory, while Romney, Huntsman and Gingrich had more unfavorable than favorable ratings among respondents.

Republicans made up 76 percent of PPP’s poll sample, no-party voters 16 percent and Democrats 8 percent, so PPP is capturing some of the potential crossover voters. The big question is will Paul’s coalition show up on January 3? PPP’s Jensen notes,

Paul’s strength in Iowa continues to depend on a coalition of voters that’s pretty unusual for a Republican in the state.  Romney leads 22-20 with those who are actually Republicans, while Paul has a 39-12 advantage with the 24% who are either independents or Democrats. GOP caucus voters tend to skew old, and Romney has a 34-12 advantage with seniors. But Paul’s candidacy looks like it’s going to attract an unusual number of younger voters to the caucus this year, and with those under 45 he has a 35-11 advantage on Romney. […]

Paul continues to have much more passionate support than Romney. 77% of his voters are firmly committed to him, compared to 71% for Romney. Among voters who say their minds are completely made up Paul’s lead expands to 7 points at 28-21. If Paul’s lead holds on through next Tuesday it appears he’ll have won this on the ground- 26% of voters think he’s run the strongest campaign in the state to 18% for Bachmann and 10% for Santorum with just 5% bestowing that designation to Romney. There’s also an increasing sense that Paul will indeed win the state- 29% think he’ll emerge victorious with 15% picking Romney and no one else in double digits.

Although Romney’s support has held steady at 20% over the last week his favorability numbers have taken a hit, something that could keep him from moving into first place over the final week. He was at +9 (49/40) but has dipped now into negative territory at -3 (44/47). Additionally Romney is the second choice of only 10% of voters, barely better than Paul’s 9%. It’s certainly still close enough that he could win, but there’s nothing within the numbers this week to suggest that he should win. One of Romney’s biggest problems continues to be his inability to hold onto his 2008 voters. Only 48% of them are still with him.

The presidential candidates haven’t spent as much on Iowa television this year as they did collectively in 2007, but this month the airwaves are saturated. All year I’ve thought Paul’s commercials were the most effective. Besides this Christmas-themed ad featuring the candidate’s son, Senator Rand Paul, the campaign has been running this 60-second spot, “The one you can trust”:

A slightly different version of that commercial, filmed in the style of a movie preview, aired in August. The Paul campaign has also been running this testoterone-charged 30-second ad called “Big Dog”:

So many political commercials have the same look and feel, but that voice-over sounds more like what you might hear on an ad for pro wrestling. The president can’t single-handedly do everything Paul is promising, but the ad sure makes him sound macho.

In addition to hiring the best creative consultants, Paul’s campaign has the best organization on the ground. He drew large crowds during a swing through eastern Iowa before Christmas: around 500 people in Bettendorf and hundreds more in Dubuque, Maquoketa, Delaware County and Cedar Rapids. Paul is campaigning in central and western Iowa today and later this week. He has outgrown the Pizza Ranch restaurant scene.

During the past week, Paul’s campaign has rolled out a number of endorsements from conservative clergy, including Davenport-based Reverend Christopher J. Neuendorf and Omaha-based pastor and Christian author Phil Kayser. (UPDATE: Paul’s campaign scrubbed the Kayser press release from its website sometime on December 28, but you can read it here.) Here’s an excerpt from Pella-based Reverend Brian Nolder’s letter of support for Paul:

The idea of supporting Dr. Paul is pretty new to me.  But the interest of many colleagues in my denomination (the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches; www.crechurches.org) in Dr. Paul, as well as the support of my former pastor, caused me to take a close look at the man and his ideas.  Though they seem radical and out of the mainstream at first, careful study will show that they actually reflect the conservatism of our nation’s founding fathers, our founding documents, and the first decades of our history.  More importantly, they reflect biblical principles.

I support Dr. Paul because he wants people to be liberated from state dependence (perpetuated by a massive welfare state) and returned to dependence on God-through hard work, entrepreneurship, and enjoying the fruits of one’s labor-and assistance from families, local communities, churches, and other private, charitable organizations.  He has the most concrete plan to shrink the Leviathan of federal government, and he has the track record to show that he will do what he says.  He wants to do exactly what the Constitution is designed to do, but which we have been moving away from for the past century: restrain the scope and size of government, particularly at the federal level.  As a patriotic American who loves his country, it pains me to say that I have the growing sense that Uncle Sam-executive, legislative, and judicial-is more of an existential threat than Iran or any other foreign power is.  Dr. Paul can help us reverse this trend.

As a Christian, I am also very concerned about the issue of human life, since each of us is uniquely made in the image of God.  Dr. Paul has always been pro-life, refusing to practice abortions throughout his long career as an OB-GYN.  He has written a book on the subject, and he signed the recently promulgated “personhood pledge” (www.personhoodusa.com), further indicating his support to use constitutional means to guarantee life and liberty to all people, even to the unborn.

Respect for life must not only extend to the unborn within our own land, but also to all people everywhere.  I am concerned that our country has moved further and further away from the “just war” principles of the Christian tradition that used to inform so much of our foreign policy.  While I am no pacifist, I am increasingly concerned about how quickly we seem to be resorting to violence to resolve international conflicts, and whether the “wars” we have recently been engaged in are truly just.  Dr. Paul promises to return us to the modest, humble foreign policy that Gov. Bush articulated in the 2000 campaign.  (This must be one of the reasons Dr. Paul receives more contributions from military servicemen and women than all other candidates combined.)

Paul has the most supporters on the Iowa GOP’s State Central Committee (Drew Ivers, James Mills, A.J. Spiker, David Fischer and Jeremiah Johnson.) He also has thee Iowa House Republicans in his corner: Glen Massie, Kim Pearson, and Jason Schultz.

The mainstream media finally picked up on the racist Ron Paul newsletters from the 1990s. (I remember reading about that on various blogs in 2007.) I doubt many Iowa Republican caucus-goers will care about these comments. More likely, conservatives inclined to support Paul will buy his blame the offensive ghost writers defense.

Romney blew off Iowa for most of this year, but his campaign has spent more than a million dollars on Iowa ads during the month of December. This 60-second spot hits President Barack Obama on the economy:

That commercial is nothing special, in my opinion. This 30-second ad about the “moral responsibility” to cut government spending looks a lot stronger:

The Restore Our Future super-PAC, which is backing Romney, has been blasting Gingrich for weeks as part of a $2.86 million ad campaign in Iowa. One of the spots asserts that Obama’s “plan” to destroy Romney and run against Gingrich is working. The narrator goes on to talk about the huge Gingrich “baggage.”

I wonder whether the Romney supporters are getting a little nervous about Perry, because the latest Iowa ad from Restore Our Future attacks Perry as well as Gingrich:

Before the 2008 caucuses, Romney had by far the most endorsements from Iowa Republican elected officials. This year no campaign dominates the legislative endorsements. Romney has the public support of two state senators, Joni Ernst and Jim Hahn, and six Iowa House members: Mary Ann Hanusa, Stew Iverson, Linda Miller, Steve Olson, Renee Schulte, and Ralph Watts. Other prominent Romney supporters include former Governor Bob Ray and former Iowa House Speaker Chris Rants.

Romney hasn’t put in as much time in Iowa as several of his competitors, but the two latest polls indicate that he has stopped the bleeding here. A second-place finish in the low 20s would be a respectable showing for him going into the New Hampshire primary, especially if Romney is significantly ahead of Gingrich on January 3.

Speaking of Gingrich, I can’t help feeling a little schadenfreude to see the once-mighty bomb-thrower sink under a wave of attack ads. The small amount Gingrich has spent on television commercials this month has been dwarfed by attacks from Perry and the pro-Romney PAC. On the plus side for Gingrich, he appears in some commercials promoting Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, and Winning Our Future, a pro-Gingrich super-PAC, is spending $250,000 on this spot warning Iowans not to let the “liberal Republican establishment pick our candidate”:

I am surprised by the number of Iowa elected officials who have endorsed Gingrich. Earlier this year, Iowa House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer and House Majority Whip Jeff Kaufmann became his Iowa co-chairs. His campaign announced a big batch of supporters on December 15, including four state senators (Randy Feenstra, David Johnson, Shawn Hamerlinck and James Seymour) and three more state representatives (Josh Byrnes, Chris Hagenow, and Bob Hager). Johnson had previously endorsed Rick Perry, while Hagenow had backed former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Side note: the college Republicans backing Gingrich include University of Iowa student Natalie Ginty, who got 15 minutes of fame this spring when a professor sent her a profane e-mail.

Gingrich held a special event last week to highlight his latest legislative endorsement. The candidate’s slide in Iowa polls didn’t deter Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen from coming out for Gingrich on December 21.

During a news conference at the Iowa statehouse, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha compared Gingrich to Iowa Governor Terry Branstad as both, according to Paulsen, have an “intensity of purpose” after being out of elected office for over a decade.

“I think this should frighten the political elite and the insiders,” Paulsen says. “Speaker Gingrich has been out of office for 13 years and he’s had time to develop a plan to get Washington under control and has been able to develop his strategy and his tactics with both a sound understanding of both the theoretical and the practical.”

Paulsen said Gingrich would take on the “power players” in Washington.

“He’s a Washington outsider with a knowledge of how government operates and he is ready to shatter the ‘D.C. Beltway’ status quo with ‘group-think’ that is suffocating this country.”

Of all the candidates, Texas Governor Perry has spent the most money on Iowa television advertising this month. The best ads for Perry feature other people speaking on his behalf. Bleeding Heartland posted one spot, featuring veterans, here. The governor’s wife, Anita Perry, spoke to the camera in this commercial:

To my knowledge, Perry has no public supporters in the Iowa House or Senate. This site claims Senator David Johnson remains a Perry supporter, even though Johnson’s name was on a Gingrich campaign press release of December 15. I will update this post if I am able to confirm or refute that claim.

Rick Santorum has done more retail campaigning in Iowa than the rest of the field, but he has had little cash to spend on advertising. The Red, White and Blue super-PAC supporting Santorum started running this positive ad, “True Conservative,” in mid-December. It’s solid but not creative:

The few commercials Santorum’s campaign been able to buy focus on his biography and feature praise from well-known conservatives. Bleeding Heartland posted the video of Santorum’s latest Iowa tv commercial here. The campaign started running this ad on television in mid-December:

Casual viewers might not realize that none of the conservatives “singing his praises” (Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Mike Huckabee) has backed Santorum for president. Along the same lines, here’s an excerpt from a new Santorum radio spot:

“Sarah Palin praised Santorum for protecting the sanctity of life. Mike Huckabee said he loves Santorum’s conviction. And Rush Limbaugh said it would be great if Santorum became president. And Rick is endorsed by Iowa conservatives like Bob Vander Plaats and Sam Clovis.”

You can listen to the whole radio commercial here. Incidentally, Sam Clovis is a popular talk radio host in Sioux City. Pastor Cary Gordon of the Sioux City megachurch Cornerstone World Outreach joined the Santorum bandwagon this month too.

Elected officials supporting Santorum include Secretary of State Matt Schultz, State Senators Rob Bacon and Tim Kapucian, and State Representatives Dawn Pettengill and Walt Rogers. In the summer, former first Congressional district Republican candidate Ben Lange went on record supporting Santorum.

The worst news for Santorum this week was that Representative Steve King did not endorse him after the two men went out to shoot pheasants together. It’s increasingly looking like King will not endorse any candidate, but he did come out for Fred Thompson very late in December 2007. UPDATE: King posted this on his Twitter account December 28:

’08, Mike Huckabee won Iowa, in part, by pushing for a transformative tax plan-the Fair Tax. No candidate yet matches his ’08 tax leadership

Makes you wonder why King didn’t endorse Huckabee in 2008. Oh, I remember–Huckabee was too compassionate toward undocumented immigrants.

The second-worst news for Santorum was that Bob Vander Plaats’ endorsement was immediately overshadowed by controversy. Santorum worked hard to get the FAMiLY Leader’s endorsement. In the end, the organization decided to remain neutral while its leaders Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley personally backed Santorum. But it’s never a good thing when journalists start speculating on whether an endorsement was for sale. Shushannah Walshe and Michael Falcone reported for ABC News,

Less than 48-hours after receiving the backing of Bob Vander Plaats, the head of the prominent evangelical group The Family Leader, Santorum disclosed that the prominent Iowan told him he needed money to make the most out of the endorsement.

And sources familiar with talks between the conservative heavyweight and representatives from several of the Republican presidential campaigns went a step further, describing Vander Plaats’ tactics as corrupt. […]

It’s a charge that The Family Leader flatly denied. […]

But even Santorum acknowledged in an interview with CNN that money was among the topics he and Vander Plaats discussed last weekend ahead of Tuesday’s endorsement press conference.

“What he talked about was he needed money to promote the endorsement and that that would be important to do that,” Santorum told CNN. “There was never a direct ask for me to go out and raise money for it.”

The former Pennsylvania senator’s statement differs from what he told ABC News on Monday night – just hours before Vander Plaats endorsed him. At a campaign event in Indianola, Iowa, Santorum said the issue of money never came up in his conversations with the Christian leader.

Other news reports claimed Vander Plaats asked Bachmann to drop out of the race. On December 22 the FAMiLY Leader issued this “clarifying statement”:

Pleasant Hill, IOWA. – The FAMiLY LEADER offers the following statement in order to clarify misrepresentations that have been circulating since the announcement of Bob Vander Plaats’ and Chuck Hurley’s personal endorsement of Senator Rick Santorum for the Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday, December 20th.

The perception that the FAMiLY LEADER Board of Directors was unable to reach agreement or did not achieve consensus on a candidate is completely false. The board had unanimous consensus 1) that The FAMiLY LEADER’s role is as a standard bearer, not a kingmaker, 2) to allow Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley to personally endorse a candidate, and 3) that as of Monday, December 19th, each board member personally indicated support for Rick Santorum.

The FAMiLY LEADER board was unanimous in their personal support for Rick Santorum but opted not to endorse as an organization out of respect for many constituents that support candidates other than Rick Santorum. The board wanted to avoid offending any constituents who may be bothered by the possibility that their support to The FAMiLY LEADER may be used to promote a candidate the constituents themselves were not backing. However, the board is thankful they can allow a voice of leadership by permitting Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley to personally endorse Senator Santorum.

The allegation by an unnamed source that Bob Vander Plaats asked any campaigns for money in exchange for his endorsement is absolutely false.

The allegation that Bob Vander Plaats asked Congresswoman Michele Bachman to drop out of the race to join with Rick Santorum is completely false. The truth is that after much prayer and discernment, The FAMiLY LEADER board members directed Bob to contact Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Santorum to present the concept of merging in order to provide a solution to the fractured vote of caucus-going conservatives. The board’s request is reflective of the broader caucus community. At no time did Mr. Vander Plaats make any specific demands in regard to who should merge with whom. The action to contact the campaigns was at the request of the board, not an action Vander Plaats initiated on his own.

Bob Vander Plaats, President & CEO, said, “It is disheartening to learn about the misrepresentations and half-truths being circulated among the media and among fellow conservatives. I encourage all conservatives to show the utmost respect for each other as the voters of Iowa help determine the next presidential nominee.”

You have to wonder whether the Vander Plaats endorsement was more trouble than it’s worth to Santorum.

It would be outrageous if Vander Plaats did ask Bachmann to leave the race. She has been ahead of Santorum in most Iowa polls and has no reason to defer to him. Bachmann’s campaign hasn’t picked up a lot of momentum, despite what I consider strong debate performances earlier this month. She ran zero television commercials in Iowa between August and this week. Her campaign did release a pair of Iowa web ads featuring testimonials from “ordinary people” this month. Supposedly those will air on television during the final days before the caucuses; I will update the post if I can confirm that.

Most of Bachmann’s high-profile endorsers in Iowa came on board during the summer, when her campaign was gaining strength. But two weeks ago Merlin buy my fence Bartz announced his support for the woman he called “the only consistent conservative courageous candidate in this race.” Five other GOP Iowa senators endorsed Bachmann earlier this year: Nancy Boettger, Mark Chelgren, Kent Sorenson, Jack Whitver and Brad Zaun. State Representatives Mark Brandenburg and Betty de Boef are also in her camp. She has to be disappointed not to have the endorsement of her good friend and “tea party caucus” member Steve King.

Social conservatives for Bachmann include Iowa GOP State Central Committee member Wes Enos and former State Representative Danny Carroll, who used to be in charge of the Iowa Family Policy Center. Jeff Mullen, the lead pastor at the Point of Grace Church in Waukee and a GOP candidate in Iowa Senate district 22, endorsed Bachmann shortly before the Ames straw poll in August.

Bachmann has been campaigning intensely in Iowa this month. She is getting lots of local media coverage on these marathon days (ten stops on December 22 and eleven on December 27). On the down side, she tends to run late and spends very little time interacting with each audience. It probably didn’t help her that there’s a three-week gap between the final Iowa debate and the caucuses.

Any comments about the Republican presidential race are welcome in this thread.

UPDATE: Here’s the latest Ron Paul ad, contrasting his principles with Gingrich’s “serial hypocrisy” and Romney’s flip-flopping:

SECOND UPDATE: A CNN/Time/ORC poll of likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers found Romney slightly ahead of Paul, with Santorum gaining fast:

Romney 25 percent

Paul 22 percent

Santorum 16 percent

Gingrich 13 percent

Perry 11 percent

Bachmann 9 percent

Huntsman 1 percent

I don’t know the party ID numbers for the 452 likely caucus-goers in CNN’s sample. The poll was in the field from December 21 through 24 and December 26 and 27. Full results, questionnaire and cross-tabs are here (pdf).

THURSDAY UPDATE: Steve King told Newsmax today that it’s “less likely” he will endorse a candidate before the Iowa caucuses:

“I’m still hopeful that there will be a way that I can come to a conviction but it must be a conviction. It is not good enough to pull a name out of a hat or just make an endorsement that is not one that is grounded in the brain and in the gut.”

King said he considers Gingrich a better candidate against Obama than Romney, he prefers Santorum to Paul, and he prefers Perry to Huntsman.

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