Advancing a Free Society

Dated Newt, Married Mitt

Thursday, December 15, 2011

With less than 3 weeks until the Iowa Caucuses, something strange is happening in the Hawkeye State.  A new Rasmussen poll shows support for Newt Gingrich in Iowa has fallen precipitously.  In just a month’s time, the former House speaker has seen his support fall from 32 percent among likely Republican caucus goers to 20 percent.  If the Rasmussen survey is accurate, Mitt Romney is now the frontrunner in Iowa with Gingrich falling into second place.

So why the drop-off?  Republican activists I’ve spoken to point to the barrage of negative campaign commercials against Gingrich –from Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney.  But they also say there is a general reassessment taking place of the electability of Newt Gingrich.  Several recent national polls provide evidence of this.  Just released polls from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, Reuters/Ipsos and AP/Gfk all show similar results:  former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is running much better than Gingrich in general election matchups against President Barack Obama.  Gingrich continues to show an inability to appeal to independents and women.  In addition, the former House Speaker apparently rubs a near majority of voters the wrong way.  A new ABC News/Washington Post national poll found that 48 percent of those polled hold an unfavorable opinion of Mr. Gingrich. Since late last month, negative views of Gingrich are up 6 points.

Much can change in Iowa – even over the next 19 days.  But what appears to be happening now is a phenomenon similar to what propelled Massachusetts Senator John Kerry to victory in the 2004 Iowa Democratic Caucuses.  Iowa Democrats in 2004 (similar to Iowa Republicans in 2012) saw the upcoming presidential election as a great opportunity to defeat an incumbent president.  Howard Dean (like Newt Gingrich) had major momentum leading up to the January Caucuses.  The former Vermont Governor began to grow in popularity across the country on a strong anti-war message.  Dean also got a major boost when long serving Iowa Senator Tom Harkin endorsed him.  But in the final weeks of the campaign, the polls began to indicate a significant change in support.  National Democratic leaders talked openly about the electability of Howard Dean.  They questioned whether he’d have appeal beyond the far left of the party.  Dean and former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt began hammering each other with negative advertisements.  Ultimately, Iowa Democrats saw in John Kerry their best hope to defeat President George W. Bush.  On Caucus night, Kerry was a decisive winner and Dean, who was once the national front-runner for the Party’s nomination, finished a disappointing third.  A phrase that was embraced by Kerry supporters eight years ago was “Dated Dean, Married Kerry.”

With President Obama’s approval rating in the low-40s and the economy still in a downturn, most Republicans (and even some Democrats) recognize that Mr. Obama’s path to re-election will not be easy.  In fact, the Obama campaign has acknowledged that the 2012 electoral map will look very different than the one that easily won Barack Obama the White House in 2008.  It is for these reasons that many wavering Republicans have begun to take another look at Mitt Romney.  Conservative publications such as National Review and the Washington Examiner have all but warned Republicans that Newt Gingrich as the party’s nominee would be a losing proposition next November.  If Barack Obama is beatable they argue, Mitt Romney is the GOP’s best bet for taking him on.

Iowa Republicans appear to be taking notice.  While Iowan Republicans have generally viewed Romney’s conservative credentials suspiciously, he’s been embraced by a who’s who of conservatives (Thune, Rubio, Pawlenty just to name a few),whose bona fides have never been questioned.  These Republican party leaders see in Romney what many voters have consistently seen in the former Massachusetts Governor—the Republican presidential candidate who has the best chance at defeating Mr. Obama head to head in 2012.  The Washington Examiner believes Romney can defeat Obama, but Gingrich cannot.  Iowa voters may have begun realizing the same thing.

(photo credit: David and Sarah Gasson)