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The Gazette KCRG
Posted January 2, 2012
Poll: Undecideds have big role to play in caucuses

By McClatchy Newspapers

AMES — Shifts happen in the 48 hours before Iowa caucuses, and Sunday it was clear that the outcome of the nation’s first presidential voting Tuesday depends on a huge army of undecided, wavering Iowa caucusgoers.

Forty-one percent said they could still be persuaded to support another candidate, while only 51 percent say their minds are made up, according to a Des Moines Register Iowa poll taken Tuesday through Friday.

McClatchy interviews with voters throughout the state found that they tend to like something about all six major Republican candidates, but there’s also usually something that makes them uneasy.

It could be Mitt Romney’s changes in positions, Ron Paul’s foreign policy, Rick Perry’s gaffes, Newt Gingrich’s history of controversy or a sense that Rick Santorum can’t beat President Barack Obama.

Many voters were deciding by spending the holiday weekend seeing candidates.

“It’s such an opportunity to see candidates up close. There’s nothing like it,” said Maribeth Waldman, a small-business owner in Boone.

This state of uncertainty has characterized the entire campaign. Just since Thanksgiving, polls have shown momentum for Gingrich, the former House speaker; Paul, a Texas congressman; Romney, a former Massachusetts governor; and Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.

“Republican caucusgoers are looking for that perfect candidate who doesn’t exist,” said Timothy Hagle, associate professor of political science at the University of Iowa. “They see a chance to beat an incumbent president, one whose policies they absolutely do not like. So they don’t want to make a mistake.”

The people at the rallies and town halls have several reasons for being uncertain.

Often there’s just enough doubt about a candidate to make them wary.

“I’m totally undecided, and I have no idea what’s going to tip the balance. I like 90 percent of what Ron Paul believes in,” said Peggy Coleman, a substitute teacher in Perry. “But I’m scared of his foreign policy. We’d have a weaker military.” Paul advocates a significantly reduced U.S. role in foreign affairs.

Sometimes voters want to see and study each candidate, which is easy to do since they have been traveling to every niche of the state in recent days.

“I haven’t been convinced yet,” said Leah Fonua, a Toledo children’s health care coordinator who saw Romney in Ames.

And sometimes they’re close to a decision but want to be absolutely sure.

“I’m struggling a little bit between who I want and who is the most electable,” said Rachel Coder, an Ames elementary school aide. “I agree a lot with what Perry says, but I don’t feel he’s going to come out of Iowa in a way that will carry him to (ultimate) victory.”

The maybes have this much in common: They want someone who has solid family values, will lower taxes, will provide incentives for private industry to create jobs and will get rid of the 2010 federal health care law, which will require nearly everyone to get coverage by 2014.

What usually gives them pause when considering a candidate is a desire to feel comfortable about their electability.

Santorum gets high marks throughout the state as a standup conservative, but the electability issue keeps dogging him.

“Santorum is interesting to me,” said Don Loy, an agriculture professor at Iowa State University. “But I think Romney’s the one who can defeat Obama, and that’s what you want.”

One Response to Poll: Undecideds have big role to play in caucuses

  1. “They see a chance to beat an incumbent president, one whose policies they absolutely do not like. So they don’t want to make a mistake.”

    Does this mean that voters in Iowa should pick the candidate who is most electable? That means they should guess which Republican would be the most appealing to people in the other 49 states, and vote for that person? That’s difficult to gauge, this early in the campaign.

    Or would that mean voting for the Republican who can capture the most voters outside the party? Ron Paul is the only Republican who shows significant appeal among independents and even some Democrats. If the Republicans accept Ron Paul as a lesser evil than Obama, and come out to vote for Paul, then Paul might be the most likely to beat Obama. The big risk is that apathetic voters would be freaked out enough by Paul that they would come out to vote for Obama.

    Actually, some of us are not focused on electability above all else.

    I hate it when people dismiss a candidate early in the election cycle by saying “he can’t win”. We’re supposed to vote according to our beliefs. We are not supposed to look at who other people support, and on that basis join in to support one of those candidates. This isn’t a high school popularity contest.

    I’m more worried about the problem of special interest influence. For example, the banking deregulation that led to our current economic hardships was caused mainly by lobbying of both Democrats and Republicans. So I simply will not accept a candidate of either party who is bought by powerful interests. Unfortunately, not enough voters are focused on the problem of buying influence.

    Most voters would not vote for a candidate who had been convicted of political bribery, no matter how “electable” he/she is or what his/her policy positions are. So why vote for any candidate who accepts legal bribes in the form of special interest money?

    We don’t have to wait for anyone to change the campaign finance system. We can simply refuse to vote for any candidate backed by big money. That denies power to the source of that money, bypassing the need for reform (and the lobbyists who would stop that reform because their jobs would be threatened).

    Voters in caucuses and primary elections could insist on voting for a candidate who is free of special interests’ influence, if their party has one available. There are some politicians who take very little money from any sources except individuals; Texas Congressman Ron Paul allegedly is one of them, and he’s the most famous current example that I know of.

    For the purpose of running for President, Ron Paul has exhibited lousy judgment by pandering to racists and advocating a few dangerously unrealistic policies. He also might be racist himself, even if he denies it. He does not show evidence of being against Jews; he might be against Israel, but I don’t much care about that.

    This makes me wish we had a better candidate who doesn’t take influence money. Until I see such a person, I’ll continue to support Paul and throw a protest vote in his favor. I don’t expect him to win. Even if he did win, the negative consequences of his racism would be minor compared to those resulting from the corrupting influence of special interests on an alternative President.

    He advocates some policies that sound radical or outlandish when you first hear them. The problem is that too many people don’t bother to think further about the reasoning behind his ideas. These ideas become more plausible as you think longer and harder about them, with some important exceptions.

    I don’t worry much about those ideas of Ron Paul that are genuinely dangerous. He would require the cooperation of Congress to implement most of those ideas. As President, he would not write laws; Congress does that. He would get to choose nominees for his Cabinet and the Supreme Court, but the Senate must approve them. His area of free reign would be mainly with executive orders. He will use his executive orders and threat of veto power to make the government smaller and closer to his preferences, but he won’t have enough power to single-handedly put his policy ideas into effect.

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