As Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are emerging and distancing themselves from the pack of Republican presidential candidates, according to more than ten national and state polls conducted over the past week. However, social conservative voters in Iowa, which holds its caucus on Jan. 3, and kicks off the election season, seem agnostic about which candidate can best represent them.
This week, two important social conservative groups in Iowa, The Faith and Freedom Coalition and Iowa Right to Life, opted not to endorse any candidate.
And a focus group of Evangelical voters conducted by influential Iowa radio host Steve Deace revealed the general sense of angst among primary voters regarding the crop of Republican candidates.
Focus group participants described Mitt Romney as “slick willy,” “fake,” “phony” and a politician who is a “weather vane”, who is a “used car salesman”, who says “what the audience wants to hear.”
Though Romney is within striking distance of pulling out a win in Iowa, much in the way Bob Dole did in the 1996 primaries with about 25 percent of the vote, these answers show how perilous and tenuous his position in Iowa and among conservatives, particularly social conservatives, is.
Newt Gingrich, whose considerable personal and political baggage initially turned off conservatives who are giving him a second chance based on his oratory, ideas, and embrace of American exceptionalism, was described as someone who got the “fundamental” aspects of America right, who understood “history” and was “intelligent” but “undisciplined.” One participant described him as being the “wrong man at the right time.”
Focus group participants seemed torn on Gingrich and represented the sentiments of many voters who are not comfortable with his past divorces and moderate stances on a variety of issues over the decades but feel that he is the least offensive of the candidates and perhaps the best able to defeat President Obama in the fall.
To that end, Gingrich’s repeated asking of those who attend his speeches to be “with him” but not “for him” may be the line of the primary season if Gingrich emerges as the victor. A recent Insider Advantage poll in Iowa has Gingrich in first place by nearly twenty points.
Herman Cain was described as “troubling” and “not capable.” Accusations of sexual harassment have dampened the enthusiasm voters had for Cain and lessened his likability among them, but these answers revealed that Cain’s missteps on a variety of domestic and foreign policy questions and his staff that has shown they are not ready for prime-time may negatively sway voters.
One participant noted that many voters were willing to overlook some of Cain’s deficiencies on the issues of the day and trust him to hire competent people around him to advise him. After his missteps in recent weeks, though, that participant said that she could not trust Cain to hire competent people around him based upon the staffers that he has surrounded himself with during the campaign.
Michele Bachmann was described as someone whose “faith is strong” but someone who was “also not answering questions” who “lacks a track record” and is “not ready to lead” or “ready for prime-time.” One participant described Bachmann as someone who had “integrity” but also had “inconsistencies” and who had firm beliefs but “weak leadership.”
Rick Santorum was described as a “family man” who is “strong morally but needs to stand for other issues” such as economic issues. Focus group participants felt frustrated that Santorum was not talking about economic issues more and some said he was the “conservative of yesterday” who cannot win. One woman said that she wants to support and donate to Santorum but something was preventing her from “clicking the button” to do so.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry was described as “too little, too late.” One participant said Perry “seems like a decent guy but I don’t want him as President” while another woman called him and his candidacy “disappointing.” One participant said Perry was a “good ol’ southerner with New York city gangster looks” who was “not worthy” of the nomination based on his lack of a firm grasp on the issues of the day.
Ron Paul was described as a “crotchety old man” who is “whiny” and an “isolationist.” He reminded voters of a “nutty professor” who was “less crazy than a couple months ago,” but “still crazy.” While many agreed with Paul’s fiscal ideas, voters were turned off by Paul’s foreign policy stances. One participant said Paul could have won the Iowa Straw Poll if not for his weak stance toward Iran during the debate held before the Straw Poll in Ames. In a nutshell, this is the reason why Paul has been unable, to this date, to expand his universe of supporters beyond the 15 percent or so that make up his fervent base. Paul is still within striking distance in Iowa and should he find a way to broaden his coalition in the next month, he has the organization on the ground and resources to pull out an upset in the Iowa Caucus.
The participants also described how they did not receive their news from mainstream media outlets and were tired of Republicans who were “giving up the game before it starts” and who are “playing the game not to let the other guy beat us so bad” while conceding defeat from the beginning. In using these analogies, the participants cited recent battles in Congress over the budget and the deficit, in which they felt that Republicans ultimately caved during negotiations.
In describing the dissatisfaction with the current field, one participant echoed the sentiment of perhaps many in Iowa and across the nation when he said he wished he could “morph” the qualities he liked in each contender “all into one” candidate.