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How Will Undecided Iowa Caucus-Goers Decide?

December 30, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
A new NBC-Marist poll showed Mitt Romney and Ron Paul leading the GOP field in Iowa Friday, but many likely caucus-goers said they're still trying to decide which candidate they'll ultimately support on Tuesday. Judy Woodruff spoke with five still-undecided Republican voters in Iowa.
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JIM LEHRER: And we return to Iowa.

Last evening, Judy Woodruff spoke with five still-undecided voters, all registered Republicans. They were selected with the help of civic and educational organizations in Iowa.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you all for joining us and to Jim Carley for hosting us in your home.

JIM CARLEY, Iowa voter: You’re welcome.

JUDY WOODRUFF: As you look at the country, how do you think things are going, overall?

VICTORIA NWASIKE, Iowa voter: I think we’re going in the wrong direction.

I think that there needs to be a 360 turnaround to where we’re going now with the economy. And I think, also, our world standing has declined.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We read that the Iowa economy is doing pretty well, Jim. Your unemployment rate, overall, is pretty good. But you still have a pretty negative view about the economy. Is that right?

JIM CARLEY: My wife and I, we’re both retired. We have our pensions, but we also have investments, which took a pretty big hit.

And it’s the uncertainty of what’s going to happen. We’re doing fine now, but when it’s not doing anything to get better and Congress can’t agree on what day of the week it is, how are we ever going to get anything solved? So, we are quite concerned about the future and what’s going to happen there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: B.J., what, about for you? I mean, personally, how do you think things are going for you, for your family?

B.J. MCLAUGHLIN, Iowa voter: Right now, things are a little bit better, but we’ve had some tough times. When I say that, I have never clipped a coupon in my life, and now I take the Sunday paper not to read the news, but to go through the coupons and see what’s in there. And I may only save $5, but I’m so excited about that $5.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Dave, what about you?

DAVE RAINS, Iowa voter: Well, I — personally, being self-employed, being in the car business, I have been pretty affected by it. I think a lot of the small dealers have been hurt.

The impending crisis, with the no lending, and people are unsure of how to spend their money or when to spend their money or if they should spend their money, I think that’s put a hurt on everybody. People just don’t have the money to spend it right now. And if we can get the economy going, it will heal all the social problems.

The social problems will all be by themselves. We just need to get the economy going right now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sam, how do you see the importance of this election, and how closely have you been following it?

SAM PRITCHARD, Iowa voter: I’ve been following it very closely. I have been lucky enough to shake the hand of every presidential candidate and look them in the eye, which I think says a lot about being in Iowa, and you can also learn a lot from that exchange.

I think this election is really going to be a referendum on some really important issues to this country. I think spending, how to balance the budget, the national debt, all those issues are really going to be decided by this election, and the American people are going to have to decide what solutions we want to go about to solve those problems.

JUDY WOODRUFF: B.J., what do you think, right now? I mean, where are you leaning? The caucuses are just a few days away.

B.J. MCLAUGHLIN: I’m leaning toward Newt Gingrich.

I’ve been leaning that way for a while because I think he’s authentic. He has success working with the opposite party. And he seems to have a vision for the future.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there anybody else you could — you’re thinking about, other than Gingrich at this point?

B.J. MCLAUGHLIN: I really like Michele Bachmann, because, if you want to know the truth, I would like to see any man — and I suppose this is a feminist perspective – I’d like to see any man start a business, go to school, raise five children, and have 23 foster children.

I don’t think a man could do that.

(LAUGHTER)

B.J. MCLAUGHLIN: So, I think she runs circles around them. So — and I like what she stands for. So, she’s a good multitasker.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sam, what about you?

SAM PRITCHARD: Yes, it seems to me with a lot of these candidates, I’m leaning away.

And so I think two candidates that I’m leaning towards would be Mitt Romney and Ron Paul. I think, looking at their records, Mitt Romney has been a turnaround artist his entire career, and I think that he could do a really great job turning around the economy. And then Ron Paul really speaks to me as a young person. He’s got a great youth following, and I really like a lot of his libertarian stances.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about you, Jim? Where are you leaning right now?

JIM CARLEY: Well, if I vote principles, which I’m really leaning at just recently here — things have happened and I’m — standing for that would put me in Rick Santorum’s camp.

I like the principles that he has. I think that’s where a lot of our problem is. We don’t have virtuous and moral leaders.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Victoria, what about you? Where is your head right now, or heart, or both?

VICTORIA NWASIKE: It really is a struggle. I’m just being honest. I don’t know. I don’t have that — it was so funny, because for Huckabee — Huckabee, I was like, yes, this is my guy. I want him. I’m going to go out.

It was freezing. It was snow and ice, horrible the last time. I don’t feel that for any candidate right now. And that scares me. So that’s why, you know, I’m just not loyal to any one person at this point.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Dave, what about you? How are you leaning right now?

DAVE RAINS: We have a couple of candidates I think should have came to Iowa, should have campaigned here. I think Mr. Huntsman is one of them. He should have thrown his hat in the ring.

He says a lot of good things. But whichever candidate is selected, we need to get behind the candidate and beat Obama in 2012.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jim, what about that? Because it sounds like you’re saying something a little bit different from what Dave is saying.

JIM CARLEY: I don’t think we need to go into the polls with the only thing on our mind is, who can beat him?

There’s still ten months to go before the election, and one of those down at the bottom may be the rising star in actuality, once they get out into the rest of the nation. And, so, I think we need to pick a good candidate. I favor one that has good principles that I can trust.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Santorum.

JIM CARLEY: Santorum, right.

But I think part of the problem that we have in this, I have never seen this many people so undecided this late in the game. And I think a lot of that has to do with the massive number of debates that we’ve had and the forum that the debates have had, to where people are attacking each other. I mean, we’re attacking our own.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Anybody else on why it’s so hard to make a decision this time? I mean, you’ve touched on the fact that it is hard, but any thoughts about why B.J.?

B.J. MCLAUGHLIN: Mitt Romney cannot get past a certain level, and he couldn’t — he couldn’t go up against Huckabee last time, although he spent gobs and gobs and gobs of money.

And, to me, Mitt Romney is the status quo in the Republican Party. And I think a lot of us — I don’t know how many of us are Tea Partiers or libertarians. We’re dissatisfied with the status quo of the Republican Party. And that’s what Mitt Romney represents. So, I think that’s why there is the fight — not the infighting, but the turmoil in our party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Sam, what do you say to that? Because you said Romney was somebody you could support. In fact, you mentioned him first.

SAM PRITCHARD: Yeah.

I think that Mitt Romney really brings a lot to the table. And if you look at him against Newt Gingrich — I mean, I don’t mean to get candidate vs. candidate here, but Newt Gingrich has really been the textbook Washington insider since — for the last 40 years.

And so I don’t know if I’m comfortable having that background in the White House.

B.J. MCLAUGHLIN: Mitt Romney is not a true conservative. And we talk about being enthusiastic. Conservatives cannot get enthusiastic about him. And that’s I didn’t think that there’s that vacuum.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about that, Jim? Because I think you’re the one who said a few minutes ago we need somebody who is going to stick — who is going to stick with their principles.

JIM CARLEY: That’s right.

And my fear with Romney and why I don’t like him is, I believe government should be small, smaller government, less cost. People are responsible and they take care of themselves.

My feeling is anybody that wants to institute health care — and I know they have the state constitution that says they can — but that’s somebody that wants big government.

VICTORIA NWASIKE: Romney, I mean, he’s a nice guy. He’s polished. He’s back for a second time around, you know, but he’s just not — he’s just not the person who I would get up in a snowstorm to vote for.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Some of you have mentioned Santorum. Why — let me ask you, Sam, why didn’t you bring up Rick Santorum?

SAM PRITCHARD: Well, I think my problem with Rick Santorum, as well as some of the other maybe more socially conservative candidates, is I think they dwell too much on social issues.

And while they might pass a credential check as far as their economic policies go, I just don’t think they’re people. I think they alienate moderate voters and independents. And while they might excite the base, I just don’t see them doing well at all in a general election.

JUDY WOODRUFF: When do you think you’re going to make up your mind?

VICTORIA NWASIKE: Probably Tuesday.

DAVE RAINS: I will have her done by Sunday, and then I’ll think about it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we appreciate all of you talking with us about these caucuses. Thank you very much.

SAM PRITCHARD: Thank you.

DAVE RAINS: You’re very welcome. Thanks for having us.

JIM LEHRER: For the record, Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s name did not come up in Judy’s discussion.