The Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll is the first major indicator of how the 2012 presidential race is shaping up in Iowa. In a nutshell, the poll confirms that Mitt Romney is indeed the national frontrunner. Even though Iowa is now an afterthought in regards to his own political strategy, he leads the poll at 23 percent.
The poll also makes it clear that Iowa Republicans are very interested in Michele Bachmann’s candidacy. Finishing just behind Romney with 22 percent is a huge victory for Bachmann as her campaign begins in earnest today. While the poll brought good news to Romney and Bachmann, it was punch in the stomach for the Pawlenty campaign. Finishing at six percent and in sixth place is lower than anybody expected.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the findings of the Register’s poll, but we also need to put its findings in perspective. While the Register’s pollster has produced results that mirror the ultimate caucus results, it’s important to note that those polls were taken in the final days of those contests, not at the onset of a race. We also shouldn’t forget that it was the Register poll that showed Terry Branstad beating his primary opponent by 19 points just a week or so before the 2010 primary. The poll was off by over nine points.
Maybe the best thing one can do to put the current poll into proper context is to compare it to a similar poll done at the same time during the presidential race four years ago. In June of 2007, Strategic Vision, a Georgia based public affairs company, released the results of its Iowa caucus poll that surveyed 600 Iowans and had a margin of sampling error of ±4 percentage points.
That poll showed Mitt Romney leading with 23 percent of the vote, followed by Fred Thompson at 17 percent, Rudy Giuliani at 14 percent, John McCain at 10 percent, Tommy Thompson at 6 percent, Huckabee with 5 percent, Brownback at 3 percent, Ron Paul and Tom Tancredo at 2 percent, and Duncan Hunter with 1 percent.
There are a couple of things that should jump out when you look at the results from the Strategic Vision 2007 Iowa poll in comparison to the Register’s 2011 poll:
First, even though the 2007 Republican presidential race got off to a much earlier start than the current contest has, it’s the media darlings, Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, and John McCain, that were artificially high, even in a state like Iowa. That means that candidates like Romney, Bachmann, and Cain shouldn’t put too much stock in the Register’s new poll numbers. People are not engaged yet, and if they are, they are more interested in beating President Obama than preferring a certain candidate.
Second, there are some pundits who are claiming that Iowans have rejected the candidates who have campaigned here the most. While it is somewhat troubling that 45 percent of the respondents in the Register poll currently prefer a candidate who has yet to travel the state much, it is way too early to write off those who are putting in the time to travel the state. It takes time to make inroads with voters. Quite honestly, it may be better for a campaign to grow slowly through hard work than to grow rapidly because of a good debate performance.
Herman Cain is a perfect example of that. He was on fire after the Fox News New Hampshire debate. The polls reflected the response he received. Yet, while Cain still polls at a respectable ten percent, most people in Iowa will tell you that the Cain sensation has now passed. He’s still a viable candidate, but to succeed in Iowa, he will have to build a top-notch grassroots organization.
It is also worth noting that the Strategic Vision 2007 poll showed Mike Huckabee at just 5 percent. At this time four years ago people were wondering if Huckabee was going to get out of the race to run for the U.S. Senate in Arkansas. His campaign reluctantly entered the Ames Straw Poll knowing it might have been the end of the road.
Huckabee’s campaign was showing no signs of life to the outside world, but hard work led to good fortune in Ames. The smaller field that resulted after the Straw Poll with Brownback, Tancredo, and Tommy Thompson removed from the equation, allowed Huckabee to grow his support exponentially. His Iowa-focused campaign and his pro-life bona fides earned him a caucus victory and almost the nomination.
In time, the candidates who receive all the media hype will see their numbers diminish in Iowa unless they have a ground game here. Just look at how McCain and Giuliani faded in 2007. Putting these two polls side by side should also convince all of the candidates that they have won nothing yet.
In some ways, I think you could say that the names in the June 2007 poll are interchangeable with the names from the 2012 race except for Romney’s spot in 2007. Only Pawlenty has built a campaign infrastructure like Romney had in Iowa four years ago, but even his campaign hasn’t accomplished what Romney had by June of 2007. It’s also important to note that plenty of people were interested in Romney in June of 2007. Pawlenty seems to be struggling in creating the same level of interest.
The advice that all of the various campaigns need to take from these polls is simple.
Mitt Romney should campaign here. Iowa is not as inhospitable as his consultants claim or wish it to be.
Michele Bachmann needs to build a ground game and be a serious campaigner to avoid becoming a sequel to Fred Thompson’s 2008 campaign. Like Thompson in June of 2007, Bachamann is living off of media attention more than grassroots support. She has a ton of potential, but need to travel the state to capitalize on it.
Herman Cain needs to steady his ship and be the man of the people. He should also stay away from CNN interviews and opt instead for one of the many Pizza Ranches in Iowa.
Newt Gingrich needs to realize that he could salvage his image and campaign if he would rent a car and drive around the state talking to Iowa Republicans. The fact that he is still at 7 percent is amazing. Not being here more is as foolish as taking a vacation two weeks after you announce your campaign.
Ron Paul’s support is rock solid. The only problem he is going to have is growing his numbers. Maybe instead of trying to legalize marijuana or admitting that Osama Bin Laden would still be alive had he been president, he should stick to his limited government and financial message to appeal to more traditional caucus goers.
Tim Pawlenty needs to be as tough on his Republican opponents as he is on the ethanol industry. He needs a big score in Ames on August 13th or his campaign may be over.
Rick Santorum is in need of a victory, either on a debate stage or at the Ames Straw Poll. In many ways, he resembles Mike Huckabee’s campaign in 2007. The Straw Poll provides him the same opportunity as it did Huckabee four years ago. He doesn’t have to win it. He just needs to surprise people.
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