MORNING LINE -- December 29, 2011 at 8:19 AM ET
New Polls Put Romney in GOP Driver's Seat
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney greets voters during a campaign stop in Muscatine, Iowa, Wednesday. Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images.
The tumultuous Republican presidential race experienced its latest shake-up Wednesday with the release of new CNN/Time/ORC International polls showing Mitt Romney leading in Iowa and New Hampshire.
In Iowa, the CNN poll showed Romney with the support of 25 percent of respondents. Texas Rep. Ron Paul placed second with 22 percent, but the three point margin was within the poll's sampling error.
Romney will look to close the deal in Iowa in the next five days, and part of that strategy includes a new television ad titled "Freedom and Opportunity," a positive minute-long spot that highlights his economic vision for the country.
The biggest upward move in the Iowa poll came from former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who rose 11 points in the past month to climb into third place with 16 percent.
"It's like any small-business person," Santorum told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in an interview Wednesday. "If the money's not coming in, you've just got to work harder, and that's what we're doing."
Santorum has held more campaign events in Iowa than any of the other GOP hopefuls, and has visited all 99 counties.
The former Pennsylvania senator has also highlighted his record on social issues in an appeal to the influential voting bloc of religious conservatives in the Hawkeye State, and that effort appears to be paying off. He ranks first among the Republican candidates, with 22 percent, when it comes to support from likely caucus-goers who identify themselves as born-again or evangelical.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, dropped 19 points since the beginning of the month, going from 33 percent to 14 percent, as the barrage of negative ads from his rivals and outside groups blanketed the airwaves in Iowa.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry captured 11 percent and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann received 9 percent.
In New Hampshire, Romney has a commanding lead, with the support of 44 percent of likely Republican primary voters. He is trailed by Paul at 17 percent and Gingrich at 16 percent.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman placed fourth with 9 percent. Huntsman is counting on a strong showing in New Hampshire after moving his campaign operation there earlier this year, and is in the midst of a two-week bus tour of the Granite State while the six other contenders focus on Iowa.
It was going to be tough for any of Romney's rivals to unseat him as the favorite in New Hampshire, but that task could be made even more difficult if the former Massachusetts governor is able to score a victory in next Tuesday's Iowa caucuses.
And if Romney is able to go two-for-two in Iowa and New Hampshire, the protracted nominating fight many were expecting might not come to pass after all.
In a sign that her second-tier candidacy is in real trouble, last night in Iowa Michele Bachmann's state chair publicly broke with the campaign and joined with the surging Ron Paul instead.
Radio Iowa's O. Kay Henderson reports on the news:
Earlier today state Senator Kent Sorenson stood with Michele Bachmann as she held an event in his hometown of Indianola, but tonight Sorenson stood on a stage in Des Moines to make the surprise announcement that he's supporting Ron Paul now.
"Tonight's a little tough for me. I've been serving as Michele Bachmann's state chair over the last year and while Michele has fought tremendously for my conservative values, I believe we're at a turning point in this campaign," Sorenson said. "...When the Republican establishment is going to be coming against him over the next few days, I thought it was my duty to come to his aid."
Listen to Sorenson's brief remarks here.
Last week Sorenson had suggested he would burn fellow Iowa conservative Bob Vander Plaats in effigy because Vander Plaats had endorsed GOP candidate Rick Santorum rather than Bachmann. Sorenson's now ready to fight on Paul's behalf.
With Paul positioned for a second- or first-place finish in Iowa and Bachmann consistently occupying the back of the pack according to Iowa polling, it would seem like an ideal time to switch allegiances. Bachmann, who won the Ames straw poll in August by a narrow margin over Paul, has never regained that frontrunner status and has occupied the second tier in the Iowa horse race along with Rick Perry and the recently-surging Rick Santorum.
Here's how Sorenson evaluated the race to the Des Moines Register:
"The fact of the matter is that I believe we have a clear, top-tier race between (former Massachusetts governor Mitt) Romney and Ron Paul," said Sorenson, who also noted he believed the "Republican establishment" was unfairly biased against the congressman's bid for office.
"We have a choice where we can elect more of the same like what we're having in Romney, or we can elect someone who's going to transform this country to get it back to what our founding fathers wanted, and I believe that's Ron Paul," he said.
PERRY IN PERSON
The Morning Line had a chance to attend two Rick Perry events in Iowa Wednesday -- both at coffeehouses in Pella and Oskaloosa. Perry's events were well-attended, and he was able to fill each location with at least 100 people. Perry's reported skill as a retail politician was on display and he was eager to answer questions and interact with voters. His stump speech had a focus on border security, as he was traveling with supporter and Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio has been accused by the Justice Department of "a pattern or practice of misconduct that violates the Constitution and federal law," according to NPR's Carrie Johnson.
Perry wove the Arpaio charges into his stump speech narrative about the intrusive nature of the federal government -- a theme of his campaign.
"One thing you don't have to worry about when I'm the president of the United States: My Justice Department is not gonna be down meddling around in your business," Perry said in Pella.
The gist of Perry's main message to voters he meets in Iowa is that he is the true outsider conservative, while the other candidates are tarnished insiders. "With all due respect to the folks that are out there running for office, as well, but if you replace a Democrat insider with a Republican insider, do you think that is gonna change a thing in Washington, D.C.?"
Perry is trailing in the Iowa polls but is trying to make his case via multiple bus stops in the state. One aspect of the ground game that is immediately apparent is that the candidates operate at a feverish pace -- Perry arrived for a 3:30 p.m. CT event in Pella and was on stage giving his stump speech and shaking hands 20 miles away in Oskaloosa by 5 p.m.
ON THE TRAIL
All events listed in Eastern Time.
Mitt Romney campaigns in Iowa, holding events in Cedar Falls at 8:50 a.m., Mason City at 1:10 p.m., and Ames at 6:30 p.m.
Rick Santorum campaigns in Iowa, stopping in Coralville at 9 a.m., Wilton at 12 p.m., Muscatine at 1 p.m., and Davenport at 8 p.m.
Newt Gingrich continues his Iowa bus tour, making stops in Sioux City at 9:30 a.m., Storm Lake at 1:30 p.m., Denison at 6 p.m., and Carroll at 8 p.m.
Michele Bachmann continues her Iowa bus tour, making three appearances in Des Moines -- at 11 a.m., 12 p.m., and 2 p.m. -- then stopping in Marshalltown in 4 p.m., and Nevada at 5:10 p.m.
Rick Perry campaigns in Iowa, making stops in Washington at 11 a.m., Cedar Rapids at 1:30 p.m., and in Marshalltown at 6:30 p.m.
Ron Paul holds three Iowa town halls -- in Perry at 1 p.m., Atlantic at 4 p.m., and Council Bluffs at 8 p.m.
Jon Huntsman campaigns in New Hampshire, stopping in Laconia at 12 p.m., Boscawen at 2 p.m., and Wolfeboro at 7 p.m.
All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:
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