Gingrich, Romney in Dead Heat with Iowa on the Horizon

BY Terence Burlij  December 20, 2011 at 10:06 AM EST

Mitt Romney (L), listens as Newt Gingrich answers a question during the Fox News Channel debate at the Sioux City Convention Center on December 15, 2011 in Sioux City, Iowa. Photo by Getty Images.

The Morning Line

Two weeks before the Iowa Republican caucuses, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich find themselves in a dead heat nationally, according to a pair of new polls.

A CNN-Opinion Research poll released Monday shows Romney and Gingrich each at 28 percent support, with Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, running third at 14 percent.

A Washington Post-ABC News survey released Tuesday finds similar results, with Romney and Gingrich each capturing 30 percent, followed by Paul at 15 percent.

The other Republican contenders are all in the single digits. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., and Texas Gov. Rick Perry are each favored by 7 percent, while former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum each receive 3 percent.

The Post’s Jon Cohen and Dan Balz write that the numbers highlight different strengths and weaknesses for the two current front-runners for the GOP nomination:

Romney has a 10-point advantage on the key question of who Republicans think is most likely to beat Obama. Romney also leads Gingrich when it comes to dealing with issue No. 1, the economy. Gingrich counters with a big advantage on experience: By about 2 to 1, more see him as having the best résumé for the White House and as being the most qualified to be commander in chief.

In other ways, the two are evenly matched. They are tied at 23 percent on which best reflects the core values of the Republican Party. They run about equal on which “is closer to you on issues.” Romney and Gingrich are also tied among those who are the strongest supporters of the tea party movement, and draw almost evenly among men and women and across age groups.

But there are differences. Gingrich has a wide advantage — 36 percent to 22 percent — over Romney among those who consider themselves “very conservative.” The former House speaker edges Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, among those without college degrees and among those with annual household incomes under $75,000. Romney has small advantages among those with more formal education and higher incomes.

The results reinforce the core framing of the race to this point: Romney is seen as the strongest general election candidate, but he struggles to attract more conservative voters to his campaign. That hesitancy on the part of a certain segment of the Republican electorate has been reflected in the rise and fall of a handful of challengers in recent months, a position currently occupied by the former House speaker.

In an appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” Tuesday, Romney was asked about his inability to close the deal with the Republican base.

“We have a lot of good people running for president,” Romney said. “At this stage, with all those candidates, to still be seen typically as number one or number two, I think it’s pretty darn good.”

The former Massachusetts governor also laid out his path to the nomination. “What my objective is is to get about a third of the votes in the first month, and then about 40 percent of the votes in the next month, and then about 55 or 60 percent in the next month of this process, and get the delegates I need to become the nominee.”

While Gingrich’s national poll numbers appear to be holding steady, his standing in Iowa has started to slide as he has increasingly become a target of attacks from other candidates, both in recent debates, and on television.

The candidate who has benefited most from Gingrich’s Iowa dip appears to be Paul, who holds a narrow lead over Romney in the latest survey of Republican caucus-goers in the Hawkeye State. Paul’s rise in the polls, combined with his strong ground operation, has many establishment Republicans in Iowa concerned about the potential impact on the state’s first-in-the nation status in future elections.

Politico’s Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns explain why:

Paul poses an existential threat to the state’s cherished kick-off status, say these Republicans, because he has little chance to win the GOP nomination and would offer the best evidence yet that the caucuses reward candidates who are unrepresentative of the broader party.

Paul’s conservative fiscal views certainly resonate with the Republican base, but his isolationist foreign policy perspective and his Libertarian stances on some social issues such as the legalization of certain drugs place him outside his party’s mainstream. While that does not preclude a win in Iowa, where support is fractured among the field of GOP contenders, it’s likely to make putting together a coalition capable of winning the nomination far more difficult.

YES MEANS NO

On Monday, House Republicans, pressured by conservative members of their conference, postponed a vote on a Senate-passed payroll tax cut and unemployment benefit extension bill. What they will vote on Tuesday is a “motion to disagree” with the Senate bill and to move the bill to a House-Senate conference committee – a move that will allow House Republicans to technically avoid a “no” vote on a two-month payroll tax cut while not passing the Senate’s version of the bill.

Under this scenario (you can read the text of the bill here), voting yes on the House measure Tuesday would mean voting to disagree with what the Senate passed.

“Our members do not want to just punt and do a two-month, short-term fix where we have to come back and do this again,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement late Monday. “We’re here. We’re willing to work. We will appoint conferees, and we hope the Senate will appoint conferees because we’re willing to get the work done now and do it the right way.”

The move sets up more brinksmanship as a the tax cut will expire in less than two weeks, a tax cut that supposedly both sides say they want to pass. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that he would not bring the Senate back from holiday break to pass a new House-negotiated measure until the House passes the bipartisan Senate version of the payroll-cut extension.

“I have been working for weeks to negotiate a year-long extension with Republicans,” Reid said in a statement of his own. “But as we approach the end of the year, it is time to make sure that no matter what else happens, middle-class families will not wake up to a tax increase on January 1st. I am happy to continue negotiations on a yearlong deal as soon as the House of Representatives passes the Senate’s bipartisan compromise, and prevents a tax hike from hitting middle-class families.”

Erik Wasson, Russell Berman and Molly K. Hooper of the Hill explain the complex politics behind how we got to this point:

Boehner was pressed by reporters after the GOP conference on why he did not warn McConnell that the compromise he struck with Reid would not fly with the House GOP. “I made it clear to Senator Reid and Senator McConnell that the House was not going to enter into negotiations until such time as the Senate did its job,” Boehner said. “It was time for the Senate to produce something. We disagreed with what the Senate produced.”

He did not answer directly when asked if McConnell had struck “a bad deal.” “They did their job. They produced a bill. The House disagrees with it,” the Speaker said. House freshman are adamant in their opposition to the Senate bill and favor a year-long extension of the payroll tax holiday, but centrist Republicans in the conference would not come out against the short term bill when asked about it after the GOP conference meeting.

With Democrats planning to support the measure, Republicans could not afford many defections in a vote on the Senate measure.

The bottom line is that the tax cut extension, payments for doctors who take Medicare and unemployment insurance extensions still aren’t passed even though both sides say they want to pass them. And as of now there is no obvious way forward for Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Reid.

ON THE TRAIL

All events listed in Eastern Time.

  • President Obama and Vice President Biden attend a ceremony marking the return of U.S. forces from Iraq at Joint Base Andrews at 12:05 p.m.

  • Jon Huntsman campaigns in New Hampshire, visiting BAE Systems in Nashua at 7:30 a.m., and holding a town hall in Stratham at 7 p.m.

  • Rick Santorum holds a pair of Iowa town halls — in Pella at 10 a.m. and Mt. Pleasant at 1:30 p.m. — participates in a health care forum in Davenport at 5 p.m., and attends a house party in Bettendorf at 7 p.m.

  • Michele Bachmann continues her bus tour of Iowa, making stops in Independence at 10:30 a.m., Fayette at 12 p.m., Postville at 1 p.m., Strawberry Point at 2:30 p.m., Manchester at 3:30 p.m., Dubuque at 5 p.m., Maquoketa at 6:30 p.m., DeWitt at 7:20 p.m., and Bettendorf at 8:30 p.m.

  • Ron Paul campaigns in New Hampshire, holding a meet-and-greet in Manchester at 10:45 a.m., and attending a town hall in Exeter at 7 p.m.

  • Newt Gingrich campaigns in Iowa, holding a meet-and-greet in Mount Pleasant at 11 a.m., visiting Al Jon Company in Ottumwa at 2:30 p.m., meeting with supporters in Oskaloosa, and finishing up with an event in Knoxville at 7 p.m.

  • Rick Perry continues his tour of Iowa, stopping in Maquoketa at 12:45 p.m., DeWitt at 2:30 p.m., Clinton at 4:30 p.m., and Davenport at 6:30 p.m.

  • Mitt Romney gives a speech in Bedford, N.H., at 6 p.m., ahead of his three-day bus tour through the Granite State.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


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