DES MOINES–The Des Moines Register, the most reliable poll we have for Iowa, is out with its final survey before the caucuses. On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee maintained a 6 point lead over Romney 32 to 26 despite the barrage of negative stories about him; John McCain surged into third place at 13 percent which would be a huge showing considering he didn’t campaign much here and opposes ethanol subsidies; Fred Thompson and Ron Paul were tied at 9 percent which means that Thompson has seen no bounce from his debate performance and weeks of campaigning in Iowa (will he drop out if this is how he finishes?), and given the margin of error, it means that Paul has the potential to move into third place. Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani continues his slide, and is down to an abysmal 5 percent in polls. There is now an outside chance that he could lose to Paul in both Iowa and New Hampshire–which would be poetic justice for Paulites and an embarassment for Giuliani who will be kept on the defensive regarding his late state strategy.
Not surprisingly, the poll found that Huckabee had a huge advantage over Romney among “fundamentalist Christians,” social conservatives, and those who think he shares their “core principles.” Romney does better on the experience and electability front, but by a smaller margin. Nearly half of caucus-goers still say they could change their mind, so take these results with a grain of salt.
And regarding Jennifer’s point that Huckabee’s press conference stunt was “drawing very little criticism in Iowa,” that’s not quite right. The Des Moines Register did cover the story, and its chief political reporter, David Yepsen, urged caution regarding the poll because “it can’t reflect the goofy press conference Huckabee held on Monday in which he promised not to run attack ads against Mitt Romney while producing them and showing them to reporters anyway. Right.” Huckabee is a laughingstock for pulling that stunt among the local media as well. With that said, I do think Jennifer is generally right that it may not have much impact on actual voters. At every stop I’ve been to, Huckabee emphasizes that he’s been outspent 20-1 and the media is against him. He’ll just cleverly blame this whole controversy on the media and and use it to add further fuel to his populist, anti-establishment, let’s show the media that they don’t control who gets elected, message.
If I had to bet on this race today I’d put my money on Huckabee based on going to events here, looking at the crowd sizes, and talking with the voters. Huckabee is not only drawing larger crowds from what I’ve been able to see, but his voters seem a lot more enthusiastic about him than Romney supporters are about their man. They tell me how they like Huckabee because he shares their “Christian values,” that he’s a good man, he’s down to earth, that they feel that they can trust him, unlike Romney. Once word of mouth gets out among regular churchgoers, it spreads like wildfire, and I think your seeing that reflected in Huckabee’s surge and the resilience of his support. I think what we may see is a repeat of Bush-Kerry 2004, in which the GOP turnout machine that worked through local social networks trumped the paid, outsourced Kerry get out the vote efforts. Romney’s anti-Huckabee ads have had mixed results from what I’ve been able to pick up. I’ve spoken to people who have said to me that they switched to Huckabee once Romney went negative, but I’ve also spoken to people who have said they can’t support Huckabee because he is too soft on immigration and raised taxes. So, Romney could certainly pull this thing off.
I’m heading out to Clinton and Edwards events now, so will have more thoughts from the Democratic side when I return.
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