JEFFREY BROWN: Republican presidential candidates spent another long day hunting for votes in Iowa. They were heading into the final weekend before the presidential election season officially opens with Tuesday night’s caucuses.
The weather turned colder and windy, but Mitt Romney warmed to his audience, as another new poll, this one from NBC-Marist, showed him pacing the field.
MITT ROMNEY (R): If you can get out here in this cold and this wind and a little bit of rain coming down, then you can sure get out on Tuesday night, and you can sure find a few people to bring with you.
JEFFREY BROWN: One key supporter showed up today, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, campaigning with Romney in west Des Moines.
REP. RON PAUL, R-Texas: It really energizes me, the young people.
JEFFREY BROWN: Texas Congressman Ron Paul was either tied for first or a close second. But 41 percent in the NBC poll said his libertarian leaning makes him unacceptable.
Newt Gingrich had been the Iowa front-runner just a few weeks back, but has fallen far behind. In Des Moines today, remembering his late mother’s mental health problems, he grew emotional.
NEWT GINGRICH (R): And my whole emphasis on brain science comes in directly from dealing — see, I’m going to be emotional — of dealing with, you know, the real problems of real people in my family.
And so it’s not a theory. It’s, in fact, you know, my mother.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, D-N.Y.: This is very personal for me. It’s not just political. It’s not just public.
JEFFREY BROWN: The moment recalled Hillary Clinton’s emotional moment just before the 2008 Democratic primary in New Hampshire. She went on to win there.
Back in Iowa, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum continued pressing to add to his late surge. He’s now running third.
Another former front-runner, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, was running fourth or fifth, depending on the poll.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, R-Minn: The day that President Obama came into office…
JEFFREY BROWN: And Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who lost two top staffers this week, was trailing the field. She discounted the low turnout at a meet-and-greet event in early Iowa this afternoon.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: I guess our effort wasn’t to bring crowds out. We were just dropping in.
JEFFREY BROWN: As the weekend arrived, the race in Iowa remained fluid. Many likely caucus-goers said they were still deciding on which candidate to support come Tuesday.
Judy Woodruff is in Iowa reporting for us through the voting next Tuesday night. I spoke with her a short time ago in Des Moines.
So, Judy, for a long time, it seemed Mitt Romney wasn’t going to fight that hard in Iowa, but no more, right?
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, that’s right, Jeff. It looks that way.
The first thing we need to say is what a large number of undecided voters there still are in Iowa. And you will hear a little bit more about that in a minute when you see the interview I did with some voters last night.
But, having said that, you are right, Mitt Romney on top in two of the most recent polls, right at around 25 percent. That seems to be so far a ceiling for him. That’s the same percentage of the vote Mitt Romney had four years ago, when he lost, because, at that point, the conservative vote in Iowa was coalescing around one candidate, Mike Huckabee.
This time, the conservative vote is looking around, spread among four or five different candidates. That’s working to Mitt Romney’s advantage.
And, Jeff, I should say, right hot on his heels are Ron Paul, the libertarian, attracting a lot of younger voters, and, as you also mentioned, Rick Santorum, stressing his Christian conservative views. And maybe all that work that Rick Santorum has put into Iowa may be paying off.
JEFFREY BROWN: Well, tell me about Ron Paul. Speaking of Ron Paul, you were at an event of his last night.
Now, what did you see? Where is the support coming from?
JUDY WOODRUFF: It is coming from the — it’s traditional that a chunk of Iowa, the Iowa Republican vote, tends to be libertarian.
And, of course, that is Ron Paul’s philosophy, so that it’s — a lot of it is young people, college students. You go to a college campus, you talk to many of them, they’re very excited about Ron Paul.
His vote is very enthusiastic. It’s loyal. They are going to turn out.
The question is how large are they? Because there’s a — there’s a sizable percentage of Iowa Republicans who say they could never vote for Ron Paul because they don’t like his foreign policy. But he is going to get a significant turnout.
He’s got students in the state who’ve come in from other parts of the country who are working for him, even though, I should say, Jeff, Ron Paul himself is going home to Texas for the weekend to celebrate New Year’s Eve with his family.
JEFFREY BROWN: Now, beyond it getting cold, what about atmospherics, if I can use that word? What’s your sense there of how worked up people are, what are the campaigns going through, as they go into the real crunch time?
JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, they’re all gearing up. We ran in this morning — at a hotel, we ran into a name that’s, I think, familiar to many of our viewers, Joe Allbaugh, who was George W. Bush’s head of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Administration.
He’s working for Rick Perry, organizing the state. And the way he put it today, he said — he said, at this stage of the game, you have identified your supporters. It’s all mechanics. It’s getting those people out, the people who liked you from the beginning, the people who are still undecided.
The Romney campaign working the state very hard — they say they’ve got — they said, you have only seen about 10 percent of what we’re doing — 90 percent of it has been underground. We’re getting people out.
You ask about enthusiasm. Everywhere you go, even Democrats will tell you they’re excited to see Iowa getting attention. They’re excited to see the press here. Even if they don’t like any of these candidates and they don’t plan to vote for them in November, these caucuses are still a big deal. So we expect a lot of attention on Tuesday night.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Judy Woodruff is in Des Moines, and we will be there through Tuesday night.
Thanks a lot, Judy.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you.