The Iowa State of Play: Romney-Paul Out Front, Santorum Surging

BY Terence Burlij  December 30, 2011 at 8:10 AM EDT

At a campaign stop in Atlantic, Iowa, Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul stopped briefly to talk with NewsHour Senior Correspondent Judy Woodruff. Photo by Quinn Bowman.

The Morning Line

A new NBC News-Marist poll released Friday confirms the state of play in Iowa four days out from the caucuses: Mitt Romney and Ron Paul are locked in a close race for the lead, Rick Santorum is surging, and Newt Gingrich is fading.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, captured the support of 23 percent of likely GOP caucus-goers, ahead of Paul, who received 21 percent support. The two-point margin is within the poll’s sampling error.

Similar to the CNN poll released Wednesday, Santorum placed third, with 15 percent. He was followed by Rick Perry at 14 percent, Gingrich at 13 percent and Michele Bachmann at 6 percent.

The NBC-Marist survey performed in late November had Gingrich leading the GOP field with 28 percent support, with Romney and Paul tied at 19 percent, Perry at 10 percent, Bachmann at 7 percent and Santorum at 6 percent.

Santorum’s jump in the polls appears to be fueled by increased support among Republican voters who favor a more conservative candidate. The NBC-Marist survey found that the former Pennsylvania senator is considered by 23 percent of likely caucus-goers to be the “true conservative” in the race.

By comparison, Mitt Romney is identified that way by just 7 percent of likely caucus-goers.

That said, Romney is seen as “not acceptable” by only 21 percent of likely Iowa caucus-goers. Half said he was “acceptable,” while another 27 percent said he was acceptable, but with some reservations.

Romney’s efforts to woo the most conservative voters in the Republican party has been one of his main hurdles throughout the campaign, but with three-quarters of likely caucus-goers viewing him as acceptable on some level — and with the support for his rivals fractured — the math might still add up just right for him next Tuesday.

DEFECTION FIRESTORM

Michele Bachmann spent her Thursday on the campaign trail trying to put out a campaign firestorm following the defection of her former Iowa campaign chair to Ron Paul a day earlier.

The Minnesota congresswoman said state Sen. Kent Sorenson had assured her hours before he announced the switch that he would remain with the campaign.

“He told a number of people on our campaign. There’s a list an arm long of people that he spoke to. He apologized to me for considering leaving. He said that he would be staying,” Bachmann told reporters at a stop Thursday in Des Moines.

“I had a conversation with Kent Sorenson, and in the direct conversation that I had with him, he told me that he was offered money — he was offered a lot of money — by the Ron Paul campaign to go and associate with the Ron Paul campaign,” Bachmann said.

The Paul campaign quickly rejected the allegations leveled by Bachmann by releasing a statement from Sorenson, who said his decision to support the Texas congressmen was not financially motivated.

“I was never offered money from the Ron Paul campaign or anyone associated with them and certainly would never accept any,” Sorenson said.

Bachmann lost another key staffer Thursday when her political director, Wes Enos, resigned after publicly defending Sorenson against the campaign’s charges.

The recent turmoil in the Bachmann campaign has spawned reports about the reasons for the rapid rise and descent of her candidacy — from the high in August of winning the Ames Straw Poll — to the possibility that she could finish as low as sixth in next Tuesday’s caucuses.

Be sure to check out these two reports on the Bachmann campaign:

HAWKEYE STATE SNAPSHOT

ATLANTIC, Iowa — As Ron Paul maintains his second-place standing in pre-caucus polling, his campaign events are now drawing considerable attention from voters and the national news media.

The Morning Line participated in the media pile-on during a Paul town hall event Thursday in Atlantic. An employee at a highway gas station described the area as “right in the middle of nowhere.” Atlantic has 7,112 residents, but for a short time was the host to Paul, about 150 supporters and curious minds as well as a substantial media throng.

Paul gave what amounted to a lengthy lecture about how he thinks the country has lost its way by allowing the federal government to become too powerful and involved — and he included a healthy dose of his anti-militarism foreign policy, which during at least one Republican debate earlier this year drew boos.

The Texas congressman was received warmly and what was especially noteworthy was the sizable portion of young men and women in the audience. While the Morning Line did not get an accurate count, the audience was peppered with college-aged people, making a sharp contrast to Wednesday’s Rick Perry events, which were dominated by seniors. Paul had his share of seniors and middle-aged at his event, as well.

Those who were excited to meet Paul made him take his time leaving. He had to be escorted out the door by his staff but was signing autographs, taking pictures and engaging with supporters for at least 15 minutes before heading to his next event.

Paul spoke with NewsHour senior correspondent Judy Woodruff very briefly after the event to say that he was very encouraged by the crowds coming to see him and that he is energized by the support from his younger supporters. He dropped the news that he plans to spend New Year’s Eve weekend at home in Texas, not campaigning.

Woodruff asked if that meant he was very confident that he would win in Iowa, to which he responded, “I never talk in those terms. I am always talking about, ‘How am I going to improve my delivery?’”

Four days out from the caucuses, Paul, a candidate seen by many to be too far outside the Republican mainstream to win the nomination, could score a victory or at least come very close in Iowa. His name comes up often with Republicans in the Hawkeye State. Whether he can maintain that in the many state contests ahead is another question.

ON THE TRAIL

All events listed in Eastern Time.

  • Jon Huntsman continues his “Restoring Trust” tour of New Hampshire, making stops in Bow at 7:30 a.m., Portsmouth at 11 a.m., Barrington at 12:30 p.m., Concord at 6:15 p.m., and Canterbury at 7 p.m.

  • Newt Gingrich campaigns in Iowa, stopping in Des Moines at 8 a.m., Creston at 6 p.m., and Shenandoah at 9 p.m.

  • Mitt Romney holds a rally in West Des Moines, Iowa, at 9:05 a.m., and attends a spaghetti dinner in Merrimack, N.H., at 5:55 p.m.

  • Michele Bachmann makes three Iowa stops — in Sioux City at 10:15 a.m., Early at 12:30 p.m., and Fort Dodge at 3:30 p.m.

  • Rick Perry campaigns in Iowa, making stops in Waterloo at 1 p.m., Waverly at 3:45 p.m., and Mason City at 6:30 p.m.

  • Ron Paul hosts three Iowa town halls — in Le Mars at 2 p.m., Sioux Center at 4 p.m., and Sioux City at 8 p.m.

  • Rick Santorum campaigns in Iowa, stopping in Ames at 4 p.m., Marshalltown at 6:30 p.m., and Johnston at 9:45 p.m.

All future events can be found on our Political Calendar:


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