The Iowa Caucus Liveblog

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What with the caucuses going on today, we’ll be updating this until late in the evening – just passing along items of interest from the race.

First, we’re being told that Rick Perry is likely to place fifth behind Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich tonight. That’s where he’s showing in the polls, at least.

But don’t be surprised if Perry makes a jump of sorts. Why? Because he’s built a fairly massive organization in Iowa that may well translate into caucus votes…

Aside from Iowa frontrunners Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, Perry is thought to be the only Republican candidate here with the kind of sophisticated ground game to pull off a much-needed comeback.

And with public and internal polling from various campaigns showing the fight for third place to be a fluid one between Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Perry, a robust organization can mean the difference between a ticket home and a ticket to New Hampshire.

There are 1,774 Republican caucus precincts around the state, 900 of which are combined and held at the same location.

As of Friday, the Texas governor had signed up 1,500 precinct leaders in Iowa, a source inside the Perry campaign told CNN.

The source requested anonymity because staffers are not authorized to reveal the information.

The Perry camp also has 470 out-of-state volunteers descending on Iowa this weekend (including Perry’s own family, which flew in on Friday).

The source said that by caucus night, “we will easily have over 2,000 Perry volunteers” fanning out across the state knocking on doors and speaking for Perry at their voting sites.

That means roughly 95% of caucus locations will hear from a representative from the Perry campaign on Tuesday night, the source added.

Campaigns in Iowa do not typically reveal their precinct leader figures, mainly to keep caucus night expectations in check.

But those leaders – regular men and women who sign up with a campaign to speak for their preferred candidate at their local precincts – play a crucial role on caucus night.

“The best example of organization on caucus night is who the candidates have as their surrogate speaker in their precincts,” said Iowa Republican Party chairman Matthew Strawn. “When you have a third of the electorate persuadable to change, the people they have standing up in each precinct for their candidate becomes real important.”

The Romney campaign will not share its number of precinct captains, and the Paul campaign has closely guarded the details of its grassroots operation.

“We don’t share any of that information,” Paul campaign manager Jesse Benton said.

Santorum’s late-blooming campaign, which is hoping for a more organic turnout based on the candidate’s appeal to social conservatives and evangelicals, was more forthcoming.

“We have over 1,000 precinct captains,” Santorum campaign manager Mike Biundo told CNN earlier this week, a number that could spike in the wake of his late surge in the polls.

The proof, obviously, will come tonight when the caucus votes are counted. But since this isn’t a primary election, and since caucus-goers will be listening to speeches and eating the candidates’ chow, the fact that Perry has such a massive organization laid on could well push his numbers among the persuadables.

The word has been that Perry has done a far better job in retail politics in Iowa and has better crowds at his speeches than anybody else, even though Santorum’s polling has been a bit better in the last week. Of course, those polls showing a Santorum surge came over the holidays; polling over the holidays is a notoriously dicey proposition.

At RedState, Dan McLaughlin predicts that if Perry can come in third in Iowa he’ll be the nominee. That might sound a bit crazy, but McLoughlin’s premise is that there’s a conservative sub-primary going on right now between Perry, Newt Gingrich, Santorum and Michele Bachmann. If Perry finishes third, which would put him above the other three, it might well knock Santorum and Bachmann out of the race and drain much of Gingrich’s support away.

Consider it this way: here’s the Real Clear Politics average of the national polls

  • Gingrich: 27.4
  • Romney: 25.2
  • Paul: 12.2
  • Perry: 6.4
  • Bachmann: 6.2
  • Santorum: 4.0
  • Huntsman: 2.0

Put Perry, Bachmann and Santorum together and the number is 16.6, which puts the resulting candidate within striking distance of the top group. And if Gingrich continues to suffer from a lack of money and organization – most people will tell you that his 27.4 percent in the RCP average is a high-water mark for him, and the last poll in that group has him down to 24 – his voters might look to somebody else as a Non-Romney.

And of course Romney struggles mightily to poll above 25 percent.

Romney has also failed completely to appeal to conservative voters who make up the vast majority of the GOP electorate. His campaign believes that he can outlast the conservatives in the race without occupying any of their political space. The assumption there is that if he doesn’t move to the right in the primary he won’t have trouble capturing the middle in the general as the nominee.

That assumption works really well if nobody consolidates the vote as Romney’s conservative opposition. So far that hasn’t happened yet, but when some 65 percent of the electorate wants a more conservative candidate than Romney, the odds are that it will.

If Perry can best Santorum, Gingrich and Bachmann tonight, he has a chance to emerge as the winner of McLoughlin’s conservative sub-primary in Iowa. None of the conservative candidates – outside of Gingrich – will really compete in New Hampshire, so the battle will move to South Carolina and Florida. Right now those are Gingrich’s territory, but if he continues to bleed they could be ripe for Perry to make a move.

UPDATE, 10:44 a.m. (MacAoidh) – Meanwhile, Santorum got some lousy press from CBS News, who essentially called him a racist last night…

While campaigning in Sioux City, Iowa Sunday, GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum said if elected he plans to cut regulations and entitlements and he doesn’t want to “make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.”

There’s video of the statement, and you can judge for yourself whether that reporting is accurate. Naturally, CBS disabled the embedding now that there’s a controversy.

Mediaite has it as well…

(link if the embed doesn’t work)

And Tommy Christopher at Mediaite says Santorum didn’t say “black people,” he just stumbled over the word.

A review of a clearer version of the video, however, casts serious doubt on whether Santorum actually said “black people’s lives.”

CBS News has posted a cleaner version of Santorum’s remarks, and it seems as though Santorum did not actually say “black people’s lives,” but rather, that he stumbled in mid-sentence with a verbal tic that sounded like that.

“I don’t want to make…mmbligh…people’s lives better” is what it sounds like to me, although CBS News also transcribes it as “”make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.”

Given the preceding context, in which he talks about the government trying to get more Iowans enrolled in Medicaid, the former explanation makes much more sense than the latter.

If he’s getting cheap-shotted by the mainstream media and being accused of racism, that indicates Santorum might be entering the big-time after all.

UPDATE, 12:49 p.m. (TOM BONNETTE)

And then we have the Ron Paul people, who largely fall into a different category of other candidates’ supporters. I have a sneaking suspicion that Paul will do better in Iowa than even polls predict, given the feverent support his campaign generates, the caucus process itself and well—because this is Paul’s time.

Paul is running second to Romney in Iowa in most polls, showing up anywhere in the high teens to low 20s. It’s impressive for a candidate like Paul to have that kind of showing, but he’s still far behind Romney in a recent poll that indicates that the former Massachusetts governor could walk away with a landslide victory in Iowa.

As people who have been paying attention know, the caucuses are drawn out processes with voters much more involved than in an ordinary primary.

Whether they admit it or not, Ron Paul’s most committed voters are in a position that they never thought they would be—one in which their guy is a legitimate top-tier contender in a presidential contest. They are not going to let this opportunity pass by and Paul has the money and organization to get his folks out in force tonight.

They will be the ones showing up at caucuses who will not be changing their minds about who they will be voting for—but that’s not to say that at least some of them won’t ever change their minds later on.

Sure there will be Paulites who will never vote for anyone but Ron Paul, but some will. That’s indicated in Iowa, at least, in the way his numbers have swelled from single to double digits in recent weeks.

Many of the supporters who have recently latched onto Paul are among those who are disgusted with the notion of having the Republican establishment assign their candidate–Mitt Romney–and are frustrated with the way that no other candidate have been able to solidify their support after rising in the polls.

These people, I suspect, mostly agree with Paul on fiscal issues and his general stance on bloated, intrusive government. They are less in the anti-war camp that most of his hard-line supporter fall into.

Some of Paul newer supporters have peeled away from him after the negative press surrounding his newsletters. Some stayed with Paul, taking the bad press as just one more instance of the establishment backlash against their guy.

Paul is going to be in this race a while, but will not be the Republican nominee. That would be a disaster for the party. The question is where will his supporters go and, more importantly, what’s the danger of Paul running third-party and handing the presidency back to Obama?

To dismiss all of Paul’s supporters as fringe nut-jobs would be as unfair as it is incorrect.

There are some nuts in the crowd, no doubt, but there are also those who support Paul who might end up turning to another candidate with a real chance at beating Obama, say, Perry. That, of course, is contingent on Perry surviving the early primary states to challenge Romney for the nomination.

The Texas governor is perceived as much more of an outsider than Romney and it wouldn’t be too hard to imagine Paul supporters ending up supporting him. Don’t think that Perry’s people haven’t considered this.

It’s no coincidence that Perry pointed to Paul when he was asked by moderators what he has learned from another candidate in the race in a Republican debate last month:

Romney also speaks about the enthusiasm of Paul supporters in the video. It would foolish for the eventual Republican nominee not to reach out to the Paul people once Paul is out of the race.

Bringing things like problems with the Federal Reserve and other issues that attract the more libertarian wing of the Republican Party further into the debate might also help dissuade Paul from extending his message to a third-party run.

I suspect that Paul, who has also run for president under the Libertarian Party banner in the past, got into the Republican presidential race in 2008 to make a point and never suspected he would be able to generate the support he has.

UPDATE, 3:12 p.m. (MacAoidh)

Perry also came out with this web ad today…

And in the meantime there’s a colossal cross-tinkle going on between Romney and Gingrich, in which Gingrich is calling Romney a liar

O’DONNELL: “You scolded Mitt Romney, his friends who are running this Super PAC that has funded that, and you said of Mitt Romney, ‘Someone who will lie to you to get to be president will lie to you when they are president.’ I have to ask you, are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?”

GINGRICH: “Yes.”

O’DONNELL: “You’re calling Mitt Romney a liar?”

GINGRICH: “Well, you seem shocked by it! Yes. I mean, why – “

O’DONNELL: “Why are you saying he is a liar?”

GINGRICH: “Because this is a man whose staff created the PAC, his millionaire friends fund the PAC, he pretends he has nothing to do with the PAC – it’s baloney. He’s not telling the American people the truth.”

…and Romney is calling Gingrich a wimp.

 

And there’s a Sarah Palin sighting, one Michele Bachmann won’t particularly like

As Michele Bachmann struggles to gain ground in her chase for the White House, Sarah Palin is urging her to put her campaign out of its misery.

Mrs Palin, who paired with John McCain in his unsuccessful quest for the presidency in 2008, recommended that Mrs Bachmann and fellow Republican Jon Huntsman, drop their bids and rally for another contender.

Speaking to Fox News yesterday, Mrs Palin said: ‘She has a lot to offer, also, but I don’t think it is her time this go-around.’

UPDATE, 4 p.m. (TOM BONNETTE)

Let’s not forget that the Republican candidates aren’t the only ones hanging out in Iowa.

President Obama’s team started opening offices up there back in September and now have eight across the state to organize leading into the November elections. The Democrats are required to caucus just like the Republicans in Iowa, although there are no challengers for Obama.

Iowa is a swing state that Obama carried in 2008 with a 9.5 percent margin. George Bush won the state four years earlier against John Kerry.

UPDATE, 4:37 p.m. (TOM BONNETTE)

It’s going to be awkward with the Santorum family around the table NEXT Thanksgiving.

Rick Santorum’s nephew, a 19 year-old college student, has put a piece out in The Daily Caller denouncing his uncle as a big-government Republican and announcing his support for Ron Paul.

Here is the text:

If you want another big-government politician who supports the status quo to run our country, you should vote for my uncle, Rick Santorum. America is based on a strong belief in individual liberty. My uncle’s interventionist policies, both domestic and foreign, stem from his irrational fear of freedom not working.

It is not the government’s job to dictate to individuals how they must live. The Constitution was designed to protect individual liberty. My Uncle Rick cannot fathom a society in which people cooperate and work with each other freely. When Republicans were spending so much money under President Bush, my uncle was right there along with them as a senator. The reason we have so much debt is not only because of Democrats, but also because of big-spending Republicans like my Uncle Rick.

It is because of this inability of status quo politicians to recognize the importance of our individual liberties that I have been drawn to Ron Paul. Unlike my uncle, he does not believe that the American people are incapable of forming decisions. He believes that an individual is more powerful than any group (a notion our founding fathers also believed in).

Another important reason I support Ron Paul is his position on foreign policy. He is the only candidate willing to bring our troops home, not only from the Middle East, but from around the world.

Ron Paul seems to be the only candidate trying to win the election for a reason other than simply winning the election.

This year, I’ll vote for an honest change in our government. I’ll vote for real hope. I’ll vote for a real leader. This year, I will vote for Ron Paul.

It’s sure that there is more to this if you read between the lines, as he asserts that Uncle Rick is trying to win the election for no other reason than just to win it—like those other rascally Republicans in the race.

Man, there are family members that I don’t get along with, but this is a pretty deep cut to publicly inflict upon your own kin. As such, it might say much more about the character of the author than his uncle.

UPDATE, 5:30 p.m. (TOM BONNETTE)

In case you missed it, Rick Perry was interviewed by Glenn Beck this morning and did a good job of articulating his vision to reign in Washington bureaucracy and as casting himself as a political outsider.

Perry always seems to excel in settings like this and it’s a shame that he flubbed so badly in his early debate performances. If he can continue to get his message out as effectively as he did with Beck and does well in tonight’s caucuses, he stands a real chance of giving Mitt Romney a run for his money down the line in the Republican contest.

Beck, who recently relocated to Texas, speaks glowingly of the governor in the interview, in which he prompts Perry to discuss the Federal Reserve.

As I posted earlier, I think that this is a great issue for Perry to harp on.

Perry basically says that he would like to return the Fed to a more transparent, single-purpose agency that only manages the money supply into the market.

Give the interview a listen if you want to know why some have been way too quick to discount Perry from this race:

UPDATE 6:45 p.m. (TOM BONNETTE)

The caucuses are about to begin and I will be blogging results as they come in and whatever analysis I can muster to help make sense of it all.

I just learned that Mitt Romney’s first name is really “Willard”. I’m not sure how that revelation will play into his chances in the caucuses so close to the start of voting, but it can’t be good. Stay tuned…

UPDATE, 8:05 p.m. (TOM BONNETTE)

With a scant 8 percent of the vote reporting, it is a three-man race as polls indicated it would be.

Paul is leading with 24 percent, Romney and Santorum both have 23 percent. Gingrich has 13 percent, Perry has 9 percent and Bachmann has 6 percent. Still a long way to go.

UPDATE, 8:05 p.m. (TOM BONNETTE)

Now we have 22 percent reporting with Paul, Romney and Santorum all at 23 percent. Gingrich has 14 percent, Perry is at 10 percent and Bachmann has 7 percent. However this turns out, the winner in this will be Romney no matter who ends up with the most votes in the end, if it keeps up this way.

Paul will not be the nominee and Santorum doesn’t have the money or organization to keep up with the former Massachusetts governor.

Perry and Gingrich are fighting for fourth and need to get a lot closer to whomever will come in third to help their campaign in places like South Carolina and Florida. A weak fourth doesn’t bode well for them.

UPDATE, 9:40 p.m., (TOM BONNETTE)

Okay, we have 88 percent in and not a whole lot has changed since my last post as for a percentages–which isn’t surprising.

We  have had a horse-race with Romney, Paul and Santorum. Santorum now has 25 percent. Romney has 25 percent and Paul has 21 percent. As for the second tiers, Gingrich has 13 percent, Perry is with 10 percent and Bachmann has 6 percent.

It’s  Romney’s night since the non-Romney’s in this race aren’t viable candidates much past tonight’s results and what happens in New Hampshire.

UPDATE, 11:00 p.m., (TOM BONNETTE)

So, it’s over in the Iowa caucuses, even thought the final counts haven’t come in so we might see who has come out on top.

No matter what the final tally is, Romney is the big winner tonight with no other viable non-Romney conservative getting the votes they might have gotten to give him much trouble for the foreseeable future.

Conservatives might initially coalesce around Santorum, but he hasn’t yet been vetted by the media or have had a barrage of negative ads directed his way from the Romney campaign–or the Romney PAC, I guess.

Santorum doesn’t have the money to blunt Romney’s march to the Republican nomination and the candidate that does, Rick Perry, finished an unimpressive fifth in Iowa tonight. I hope better things for Perry in South Carolina, but it’s been a hard road for the Texas governor since his first rise shortly after stepping onto the national stage.

Gingrich is still out there, but did you find it curious the way the kept referring to Santorum in his speech tonight? Could it be that Gingrich is hoping that Santorum, if he were to pull off getting the support and money behind him to edge out Romney as the eventual nominee, might choose him for the bottom of the ticket in the general election against Obama?

Hard to say, but maybe a savy politician like Newt is hedging his bets for now. Maybe I’m just being too cynical and he simply meant what he said about Santorum with no ulterior motive. That would be a first in politics, I guess.

No matter how anyone might try to try to couch it, it’s a night that has made the Romney camp very happy. It’s looking more and more that he will eventually end up with the nomination and face Obama in November.

Conservatives like me who have been feeling some trepidation about Romney as the Republican nominee might want to get used to the idea.

 

 

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