REPORTERS NOTEBOOK: IOWA CAUCUS EXPOSES G.O.P. DILEMMA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Iowa caucus, now history, shows a somewhat surprising dilemma for the Grand Old Party. I was somewhat surprised by the result but at the same time it shows what I have known for sometime. Republicans are not energized and excited about any of the candidates and this is allowing the extremist’s on the far right to continue to hamstring the process. The reality in 2012 is that there is no Ronald Reagan on a white horse to ride in and save the day, Republicans don’t like Mitt Romney, there are not enough whack-jobs to elect Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich has more baggage than Donatella Versace and Ron Paul has been marginalized by the so-called “main stream” Republicans to be unelectable. Rick Perry is still praying for a miracle. It seems Michelle Bachmann is the only one who has so far has answered the clue phone.

New Hampshire is next but the pundits are already focusing on South Carolina where newly minted contender Santorum is flexing some muscle. Rasmussen Reports suggests that Rick Santorum who two months agohad one percent (1%) support among likely South Carolina Republican Primary voters now is running a close second there with 24% of the vote.  The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey in the Palmetto State finds former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney still in the lead, earning 27% support from likely GOP Primary Voters, up from 23% in early November. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is in third with 18% of the vote, followed by Texas Congressman Ron Paul at 11%.

Bringing up the rear are Texas Governor Rick Perry with five percent (5%) and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman at two percent (2%). Another two percent (2%) of these likely primary voters like some other candidate, and 11% remain undecided. In the first Rasmussen Reports survey of the South Carolina Republican Primary race in November, Georgia businessman Herman Cain came in first with 33% support, followed by Romney and Gingrich. Cain has since dropped out of the race.

Republicans are still having problems deciding on a candidate. It’s probably because, as I have suggested, we don’t like the choices…at all. The latest findings from South Carolina parallel the voting sentiments of Republicans nationallyfollowing the Iowa caucuses, with Romney out front with 29% support.  Santorum, after his photo finish with Romney in Tuesday’s caucuses, runs second at 21%, with Gingrich in third with 16% of the vote. The January 21 primary in South Carolina is especially critical for Santorum who has largely written off next Tuesday’s first-in-the-nation New Hampshire Primary and is counting on the conservative, evangelical vote in the southern state to build the momentum for his candidacy.

Things remain fluid in South Carolina, however, with nearly half the state’s primary voters (48%) saying they still could change their minds. Just 41% are certain already of how they will vote.  Those certain of their vote include 62% of Paul’s supporters, 51% of Perry’s backers, 50% of Romney voters. Just 43% of Santorum voters and 36% of Gingrich supporters are locked in at this point. In 2008, during the final week leading up to the South Carolina primary, voters for less successful candidates peeled away from their first choice to vote for one of the two front-runners. In that race, it was the eventual nominee John McCain and the second place finisher Mike Huckabee.

It’s important to note, too, that 66% of all likely Republican primary voters in South Carolina, regardless of whom they want to win, think Romney will ultimately win the party’s presidential nomination. Just 11% predict that Santorum will be the GOP nominee, while nine percent (9%) expect Gingrich to triumph. Forty-five percent (45%) say Romney would be the strongest Republican against President Obama versus 18% who feel that way about Gingrich and 16% who say that of Santorum.

Santorum is the best liked of the candidates, with 72% favorables among likely primary voters in the state. Nearly as many (68%) share a favorable opinion of Romney, followed by Gingrich who is viewed favorably by 59%. Fifty percent (50%) like Perry, while 55% have an unfavorable opinion of Paul. Huntsman, too, is viewed more unfavorably than favorably, but 27% of primary voters don’t know enough about him to venture any kind of opinion. Paul and Huntsman are seen as the two weakest potential GOP candidates against Obama. Santorum outpolls both Romney and Gingrich two-to-one among Tea Party voters. Romney holds a similar lead over his top two rivals among those who are not part of the movement.

Evangelical Christian voters prefer Santorum over Romney 33% to 17%. But Romney leads among other Protestants, Catholics and voters of other faiths with roughly one-third of the votes from each group. Even if their personal favorite comes up short in the primary process, just five percent (5%) of Republican primary voters in South Carolina are interested in a third party candidate. Eighty-four percent (84%) plan to stick with the Republican nominee even if their favorite loses the nomination, while six percent (6%) would vote for Obama. Eighty-seven percent (87%) of South Carolina GOP primary voters think it’s at least somewhat likely that their party’s candidate will win the White House in November, with 48% who say it’s Very Likely. Only nine percent (9%) of these voters even somewhat approve of the job Obama is doing as president.

What is playing out in the polls is exactly as has been suggested as benefiting President Obama. While none of us, collectively, are thrilled about another Obama term (which is nothing personal as the President remains personally popular) we like the opposition choices less. This race remains the President’s to lose at this point.

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