Candidates Enter Iowa Homestretch

BY Christina Bellantoni and Terence Burlij  January 2, 2012 at 7:35 AM EDT

Rick Santorum; photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum speaks during a campaign stop in Sioux City, Iowa. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

It’s the final full day of campaigning for Republicans hoping to win the Iowa caucuses Tuesday night. The candidates are putting it all on the line as they barnstorm the state, and undecided Iowa voters have no easy task ahead.

NewsHour correspondent Judy Woodruff spoke with five voters during a roundtable that aired Friday night. The Republicans made clear they’re worried about the nation’s future and debated the merits of the candidates.

Victoria Newasike said she trudged through cold weather to back Mike Huckabee in 2008. “I don’t feel that for any candidate right now and that scares me…I am just not loyal to any one person at this point,” she said. She plans to make up her mind Tuesday, but it doesn’t sound like former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney would be her choice: “He’s just not the person who I will get up in a snowstorm to vote for,” she said.

Of note, Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s name did not come up during the discussion.

The most trusted poll in the field, the Des Moines Register’s survey released Saturday night, found that former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum “has a clear shot at victory Tuesday night.”

The poll found him in a three-way race for the victory with Romney and Texas Rep. Ron Paul. Romney led with 24 percent after four days of polling, besting Paul’s 22 percent and Santorum’s 15 percent. But in the final two days of the Register’s survey, Santorum edged out Paul to take second place.

The Register concluded: “What makes Santorum’s growth spurt particularly striking is his last-second rise: He averaged 10 points after the first two nights of polling, but doubled that during the second two nights. Looking just at the final day of polling, he was just one point down from Romney’s 23 percent on Friday.”

The trend kept up in a new survey of Iowa caucus-goers from left-leaning Public Policy Polling that showed Paul with 20 percent, Romney with 19 percent and Santorum at 18 percent, an eight-point jump since a poll conducted earlier in the week. Santorum is especially strong with voters who made their choice in the last seven days, PPP found.

And in a clear reminder of the next contest on the horizon, a new Suffolk University/7NEWS released Sunday found Romney with a strong lead in New Hampshire. The two-day tracking poll of likely voters found Romney with 41 percent, Paul in second place at 15 percent, former House speaker Newt Gingrich with 11 percent and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman with 9 percent.

(Don’t miss Gwen Ifill’s take on the impact of Iowa and New Hampshire.)

ON THE GROUND

Don’t miss the NewsHour Monday night for more reporting from Judy Woodruff.

NewsHour reporter-producer Quinn Bowman (@quinnbowman) spent Sunday with Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann in an Oskaloosa, Iowa, church. During the service, the congresswoman spoke for about an hour about her faith and quoted scripture. She was followed by Pastor Bill Tvedt who delivered a clear message, Bowman reports: “Vote for a presidential candidate that shares your brand of faith.” At the church’s information desk were pamphlets produced by the Institute for Religious Research questioning Mormonism.

And in a lighter moment, NewsHour reporter-producer Elizabeth Summers caught Bachmann and her husband Marcus dancing in a parking lot outside the congresswoman’s Urbandale campaign headquarters. Check it out.

SKIPPING NEW HAMPSHIRE

Perry and Bachmann are making post-Iowa plans, but instead of making the traditional push into New Hampshire after the caucuses are over, both candidates are heading to South Carolina, which holds the first-in-the-South primary on Jan. 21.

“Gov. Rick Perry will travel to Greenville, S.C. on Jan. 4,” his campaign announced in a press release Saturday. The Texas governor still plans to participate in the two upcoming New Hampshire debates — Saturday night in Manchester and Sunday morning in Concord.

Bachmann campaign manager Keith Nahigian told the Morning Line recently that their organization in the Palmetto State is “better than any on the planet.” He boasted that Bachmann has organized in 1,500 precincts and believes she will do well there. Nahigian said Bachmann would participate in the debates in New Hampshire this weekend, but “our focus will be South Carolina.”

Elizabeth Summers (@elizsummers) reported Saturday that Bachmann dismissed questions about her campaign’s next focus as “ridiculous.”

For the next two days, at least, Bachmann is keeping her focus on Iowa. She released a television ad Monday morning that proclaims she is “One of our own.”

“She’ll never back down,” a narrator says.

Recent polls show both Perry and Bachmann mired in single digits in New Hampshire, where independent voters play a much more significant role than in either Iowa or South Carolina. With Romney the heavy favorite there, the decision for Perry and Bachmann to skip the state makes some degree of sense, but whether they’re still in the race by Jan. 21 will likely depend on Tuesday night’s outcome.

THE QUIET CAMPAIGN

Romney may have been waging a “stealth campaign” to win Iowa, but there is one candidate who has really flown under the radar: President Obama.

Politico’s Glenn Thrush reports on the groundwork being laid by the president’s re-election team heading into early voting contests in Iowa and New Hampshire:

Since Obama’s team began opening offices in battleground states last April, they have viewed the Jan. 3 caucuses and Jan. 10 primary as vital political table-top exercises, a chance to reactivate and re-energize their vaunted 2008 network of organizers and campaign teams. The short-term goal is modest enough: Grab a few thousand votes to match George W. Bush’s showing during his 2004 reelection campaign.

But many in the party are now asking whether the focus on the organizational long game, a much less in-your-face approach than Bill Clinton adopted during the same stretch of his 1996 reelection campaign, will be enough to counter weeks of Obama-bashing by Republicans in both states that could damage him in the general election.

With that in mind, the Obama team is making sure to have a say in the GOP fight, with most of the criticism directed at front-runner Romney.

Part of that effort this past weekend included the Democratic National Committee flying to Iowa a former worker at American Pen & Pad who was laid off after the Romney-run private equity firm Bain Capital took control of the company in the early 1990s.

TWEET OF THE MORNING

@carrienbcnews: “It’s Caucus Eve, 142 days since @GovernorPerry announced his run. We end the day with a rally in — you guessed it– Perry, Iowa.”

ELSEWHERE IN POLITICS…

Over the weekend and teeing up what will be a major debate, Chief Justice John Roberts defended his justices against critics who think they won’t be impartial during the upcoming hearings on President Obama’s health care law.

Roll Call crunched the numbers and found that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., won more than half of 2011′s filibuster-breaking votes, besting his success rate from the previous year. His 2011 success rate was 59 percent. In 2010, it was 54 percent.

ON THE TRAIL

All events listed in Eastern Time.

  • Mitt Romney holds four Iowa rallies: Davenport at 9:10 a.m., Dubuque at 12:50 p.m., Cedar Rapids at 5:15 p.m. and Des Moines at 9:30 p.m.

  • Newt Gingrich campaigns in Iowa, making stops in Independence at 10 a.m., Walford at 1 p.m. and Davenport at 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m.

  • Rick Santorum campaigns in Iowa, stopping in Polk City at 11 a.m., Perry at 12:30 p.m., Boone at 3 p.m., Newton at 5 p.m. and Altoona at 7 p.m.

  • Ron Paul has five Iowa campaign stops scheduled: Des Moines at 12:15 p.m., Davenport at 2 p.m., Cedar Falls at 3:30 and 5 p.m. and Mason City at 6:30 p.m.

  • Rick Perry holds a pair of Iowa meet-and-greets in Sioux City at 1:30 p.m. and Carroll at 5 p.m., as well as a rally in Perry at 7:30 p.m.

  • Michele Bachmann drops by a restaurant in West Des Moines at 2 p.m. and holds an event at her Iowa campaign headquarters in Urbandale at 10 p.m.

  • Jon Huntsman has New Hampshire to himself, campaigning in Nashua at 11 a.m. and holding a town hall in Dover at 7 p.m.

  • President Obama and the first family depart Honolulu at 10 p.m. for Washington.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


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