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the vote blog

Government is serious. Democracy is sacred. And then there is politics the way it is actually played. The Vote blog looks at politics the way the players talk about it among themselves after work.

Republican presidential candidate former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks at the Keene Public Library, Friday, in Keene, N.H. Santorum was booed after he compared gay marriage to polygamy, in a meeting with college Republicans in Concord, N.H., yesterday. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Rick Santorum compares gay marriage to polygamy. Will that help him with GOP?

By Staff writer / 01.06.12

Rick Santorum was booed yesterday after he compared gay marriage to polygamy, in case you haven’t heard.

In a meeting with college Republicans in Concord, N.H., he got into a long back-and-forth with the crowd on this contentious social issue. At one point he said, “Are we saying everyone should have the right to marry? So anyone can marry anyone else? So anybody can marry several people?”

Some attendees didn’t take this too well, and let Santorum know it. When he left he received some cheers, but they were drowned out by lingering boos.

Is Santorum’s stance on gay marriage an impediment to his winning the nomination? He is adamantly in favor of defining “marriage” as something between a man and a woman, after all.

Well, in terms of his appeal to GOP voters, this position is probably a big plus. Republicans as a whole remain highly opposed to allowing such consecrated unions between members of the same sex. According to a Gallup poll from last May, only 28 percent of Republicans are in favor of gay marriage. That’s a number that hasn’t budged in years.

On this subject “Republicans in particular seem fixed in their opinions”, wrote Gallup’s chief editor, Frank Newport, at the time.

It’s a different story when you look at the whole electorate, though. If Santorum does win the GOP nod this is an issue that could hurt him in the fall.

Attitudes toward gay marriage among the electorate as a whole have shown a big step toward the “pro” side in recent years. Two years ago, only 40 percent of respondents to a Gallup survey were in favor of same-sex marriage. Last May, 53 percent said they would approve. It was the first time a poll showed a majority of the US population taking that position.

Among independents, the slice of the electorate crucial to victory in November, approval was even higher, at 59 percent. Nor is Gallup alone; a recent survey from the Pew Center showed similar results, with a plurality of 46 percent approving of gay marriage.

The issue remains volatile, and the approval rating here is fairly narrow. That can be seen by President Obama’s own awkward attempts to strike some balance on this subject. But the fact is that Democrats could easily paint Santorum as out of step with the US on this. And they will try to do that, if he wins.

Santorum’s biggest problem here, though, might be that Republicans know the former Pennsylvania Senator might not wear well on the entire public. While they respect his cultural warrior credentials, the emphasis Santorum has put on the “warrior” part of this equation in the past has at times made him seem combative and dour.

At the conservative “RedState” blog, contributor Leon H. Wolf wrote a post on Friday to the effect that while he likes Santorum, the GOP should really, really not nominate him.

“As we have seen during the debates this year, he reacts to people disagreeing with him by immediately moving into angry, sneering, whiny defensiveness,” writes Wolf. “He was tremendously ineffective as a member of the Senate leadership because his personality does not command loyalty or respect.”

Santorum’s perceived electability remains his biggest weakness, writes the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza on his “Fix” blog. He noted that in exit polls, 31 percent of Iowa GOP voters said that the ability to beat President Obama was the most important attribute a Republican nominee could have.

Santorum won only 9 percent of those voters.

“That’s a problem that Santorum needs to find a way to solve – and quickly. You simply cannot win a nomination where the biggest voting concern for people is beating the incumbent if they don’t think you can, well, beat the incumbent,” writes Cillizza.

Santorum, for his part, has been insisting that electability is a hobby horse of reporters, and that picking a real conservative is the most important aspect of GOP voters’ choice.

“Who has the best chance to beat Obama? Rick Santorum,” said an ad Santorum’s campaign ran in Iowa. “A full spectrum conservative, Rick Santorum is rock solid on values issues.”

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Photo illustration: Jake Turcotte Gingrich (Matt Rourke/AP) 'Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back' (Lucasfilm Ltd./AP)

Newt Gingrich biggest geek in GOP primary race, says Scientific American

By Staff / 01.05.12

Newt Gingrich – a.k.a. "Newt Skywalker" – is by far the biggest geek in the GOP presidential field, according to a Scientific American ranking.

Mitt Romney comes in second, and Ron Paul is third among the six candidates reviewed.

The ranking makes much of Gingrich's immersion in science fiction, including his love of Issac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy. Here's what Newt wrote about this seminal work while he was Speaker of the House in 1996:

While Toynbee was impressing me with the history of civilizations, Isaac Asimov was shaping my view of the future in equally profound ways….For a high school student who loved history, Asimov’s most exhilarating invention was the ‘psychohistorian’ Hari Seldon. The term does not refer to Freudian analysis but to a kind of probabilistic forecasting of the future of whole civilizations.  The premise was that, while you cannot predict individual behavior, you can develop a pretty accurate sense of mass behavior.  Pollsters and advertisers now make a good living off the same theory.

The Scientific American article quotes Bob Walker, a former chairman of the US House Committee on Science (now the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology), who said that Gingrich "would probably be the most knowledgeable president on technology issues ever elected."

The article uses a highly subjective 1 to 5 star ranking in three areas: "Geekiness," "Policies, and "Associations." Gingrich got five stars in the first two areas and four in the last.

What's more, according to Politico, the Georgia politician's forays into futurology in the 1980s and 1990s earned him the monicker  "Newt Skywalker." 

Mitt Romney scored four stars on Geekiness. Romney said in 2007 that his favorite novel was "Battlefield Earth" – a 1,000-page sci-fi yarn spun by Church of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard

The Scientific American article notes Romney, has a "corny sense of humor," but that "being socially awkward is not a sufficient qualification for ascendance to the rank of geek." Lose one geek star.

Ron Paul, says the article, might be better described as a Constitutional "nerd" or a "wonk," but not a geek. Still, author Christopher Mims notes, that many of Paul's libertarian supporters are Bona fide geeks.

The key policy issues that the candidates are ranked on include climate change, research funding, and views on evolution.

Rick Perry, the article states bluntly "is not a geek." But his energy and technology policies as governor of Texas earned him four "policy" stars. 

Reader reaction to the Jan. 3 "Geek Guide" to GOP candidates is a bit harsh. Some readers describe it as "unserious" more of a "dating guide" than a science profile, and object to using an interest in science fiction – rather than accuracy or expertise in a field – as criteria for assessing a political leader's science credentials.

One surprising omission from the article: Jon Huntsman. Remember this Huntsman remark (directed at Gov. Rick Perry) during a September GOP debate:

"Listen, when you make comments that fly in the face of what 98 out of 100 climate scientists have said, when you call into question the science of evolution, all I'm saying is that, in order for the Republican Party to win, we can't run from science."

Who do you think is the biggest geek on the 2012 campaign trail?

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Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R) of Texas, tries to quiet the crowd at his caucus night rally, Tuesday in Ankeny, Iowa. (Eric Gay/AP)

Iowa caucus results: Where does Ron Paul go from here? (+Video)

By Staff writer / 01.04.12

Where does Ron Paul go from here? The Texas libertarian didn’t win the Iowa caucuses, of course – he finished third, just behind winner Mitt Romney and virtual co-winner Rick Santorum.

But as the old pundit line goes, there are three tickets out of the Hawkeye State – and Representative Paul got one of them. So he’ll continue to ride his anti-intervention, pro-drug legalization, Fed-bashing campaign as long as his money and volunteers hold out.

To hear the Paul people tell it, their guy is now the chief alternative to Mitt Romney. Mr. Santorum is “a dead end,” according to a piece posted on Paul’s national website. The former Pennsylvania Senator has struggled to raise money and establish an organization outside of Iowa.

“This is a now a two-way race between establishment candidate Mitt Romney and the candidate for real change, Ron Paul,” says the story.

Well, nice try, but we don’t think so. Would this be a good time to point out that Paul is still running behind Newt Gingrich in national polls, with only 13 percent of the GOP vote? Or that he has yet to break single digits in surveys of some important upcoming primary states?

Yes, Paul’s doing better than he did last time, and he’s got lots of cash and committed followers. He could score big in caucus states such as Nevada. But his appeal to actual Republicans is limited. And he is running for the Republican nomination, after all.

“I think Ron Paul is going to be in it for a long time, but I don’t think he’s a viable national candidate,” said Iowa’s veteran GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley on Wednesday during an appearance on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”

Just look at the Iowa entrance polls conducted by a media consortium to see Paul’s promise and problems. On the one hand, he won a plurality of men in Iowa – taking 24 percent of the male vote. He was the overwhelming favorite of young voters, winning almost half the ballots cast by people aged 18 to 29.

But scroll down and you’ll see that Paul garnered the support of only 14 percent of self-described Republicans at the caucuses. His vote total was powered by independents – he took 43 percent of the independent vote.

Similarly, his strongest ideological category was moderates. He took 40 percent of the vote of caucus-goers who described themselves as “moderate or liberal”.

Now, does this mean Paul would run well against President Obama in a general election campaign? Perhaps – but he’s got to get there first. And the theme of the GOP primaries so far has been that of a conservative slice of the party searching for an alternative to Mitt Romney, whom they believe to be a closet moderate himself. They are unlikely to coalesce around someone with Paul’s views, particularly his anti-interventionist, dovish foreign policy stance.

“The GOP nominee, whether Romney or Santorum, will be staunchly in favor of a military option, if needed, to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon ... He or she will be opposed to slashing defense,” wrote conservative Jennifer Rubin on her Washington Post blog, Right Turn, in a piece titled, “Credit Santorum with sinking Ron Paul.”

That said, Paul’s clearly going to remain a factor throughout the race, perhaps all the way to the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla. It’s possible he’ll be a force shaping the GOP going forward. That’s his follower’s dream – and perhaps Mitt Romney’s (or Rick Santorum’s, or Newt Gingrich’s) nightmare.

“If Ron Paul comes to the convention with 100s of delegates – he can veto the veep pick, shape the platform, cause a ruckus in Tampa,” tweeted ABC political reporter Terry Moran on Tuesday night.

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Republican presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann (R) of Minnesota, speaks to supporters and media during a campaign stop, Monday in West Des Moines, Iowa. (Eric Gay/AP)

Why did Michele Bachmann's campaign crater?

By Staff writer / 01.04.12

What happened to Michele Bachmann? Not too long ago – OK, last August – she was a hot item in GOP politics. She won the Ames, Iowa, straw poll that month, and was on every big Sunday talk show in the nation days later.

She seemed tough, and substantive, with a North Country twang – a Sarah Palin who could talk about tax policy and who was actually running. Maybe she wouldn’t win, but it looked like she would be a force in the coming campaign.

Now Representative Bachmann is heading back to Minnesota after a disastrous finish in the Iowa caucuses. On Wednesday she announced at a press conference that she was officially dropping out of the race.

"I have decided to stand aside ... I have no regrets," she said.

In the end, Bachmann may have raised her profile, and become a national figure, but her candidacy cratered like a rock tossed off a New Hampshire cliff.

What were her problems? Here are a few:

Gaffes. OK, Bachmann did not scramble the events of Paul Revere’s ride, as Palin famously did last summer. But she did place the opening battles of the Revolutionary War in New Hampshire. She mistakenly claimed John Wayne had been born in her Iowa hometown of Waterloo. (It was John Wayne Gacy, the notorious serial killer). She handled these mistakes fairly well, admitting she was wrong and moving quickly on, but the gaffe-prone tag stuck.

Defections. Bachmann was dogged throughout her campaign by staff defections at key moments. Her campaign manager Ed Rollins quit in September, then sniped at her from the safety of cable news studios. Days before this week’s caucuses, her Iowa co-chair, Kent Sorenson, leapt over to Ron Paul’s campaign. House staffers say Bachmann is a tough boss, and that apparently continued on the trail.

On Tuesday night it was Mr. Rollins, an old Washington pro, who stuck a knife in her candidacy and pronounced it done. “At the end of the day she didn’t quite pass the muster that she needed to be looked at as a credible candidate,” he said.

Women. You would think the only female candidate in the GOP race might attract a disproportionate share of woman voters. But Bachmann didn’t. According to an Iowa State University poll taken in late December, her vote share was about 7.2 percent with both genders.

In contrast, third-place finisher Ron Paul had a huge gender gap in that same poll, with 32 percent of women saying they would support him, and 22 percent of men. (He finished with 21.4 percent of the actual vote.)

On the Washington Post blog, She the People, Post writer Patricia Murphy asked whether Republican voters, including Republican women voters, remain unwilling to support a female presidential candidate.

“Why aren’t conservative women supporting one of their own?” Ms. Murphy asked.

In the end, Bachmann will always have Ames. But that’s all she’ll have, in terms of 2012 presidential campaign highlights. She turned out the lights on her effort rather than accumulate more debt to little purpose.

[Editor's note: The original version of this story reported that Michele Bachmann finished last in the Iowa caucuses.]

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Republican presidential candidate and Texas congressman Ron Paul speaks during a campaign stop Tuesday at Valley High School in West Des Moines, Iowa. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Does Ron Paul want to be president, or a prophet?

By Staff writer / 01.03.12

Does Ron Paul want to be president, or a prophet of libertarian ideology?

We ask the question because ABC reporter Terry Moran yesterday got Representative Paul to say something shocking (by mainstream media standards, anyway). He asked the Texas congressman whether he sees himself in the Oval Office when he lays his head on his pillow at night. Paul’s answer: “Not really.”

Wow! We bet Mitt Romney sees himself in the Oval Office when he lays his coif down for the evening. Also when he’s having breakfast, driving to campaign events, counting his money, flossing, and pretty much everything else. He probably has a replica Oval Office built in one of his homes, and is already practicing how he’ll arrive on the first day of the Romney Era.

To be fair, in his full answer to the visions-of-the-Oval-dancing-in-his-head question, Paul added, “I think it’s a possibility. Sometimes I kid about it. It’s a risk I take.” But on the whole he sounded, well, diffident about the whole thing.

ABC’s Moran used the “prophet” line, saying that at times Paul appears more interested in warning college crowds about the dangers of government spending, the Fed, foreign interventions, the fence along the Mexico border, and so forth, than in asking people to, you know, vote for him.

“Young people are more open to consistency and principle,” said Paul, when Moran asked why he appeals to younger voters.

Well, Paul is certainly somebody who sees getting his message out as a mission, perhaps as important a mission as getting himself elected. But he’s not just cruising along here like Yoda in a suit. He’s running to do well, if not win – more so than he did last time he ran for president. How can you see that? By the way he treats his rivals. He’s run some of the hardest-hitting negative ads broadcast in the 2012 campaign.

Yes, the super PAC allied with Mr. Romney has tons of money, so you’ve heard about their anti-Newt Gingrich ad buy in Iowa. But Paul was among the first to hit Mr. Gingrich for his lobby-like Washington activities. His “Serial Hypocrisy” ad on the former speaker is just brutal, and it has almost one million views on YouTube.

Perhaps this is why Gingrich has returned the favor, saying he wouldn’t vote for Paul if Paul wins the GOP nomination.

More recently the Paul camp has been taking after Rick Santorum, perhaps because the two at this point are neck-and-neck with Mitt Romney in the Iowa polls.

Paul’s campaign web site currently features on its front page a short piece titled “Santorum’s Liberal Record on Gun Rights.”

Its main point is that Mr. Santorum helped then-Republican Sen. Arlen Specter in his 2004 reelection bid, and that Senator Specter is a “radical anti-gunner.” Well, we don’t know about that, but it is true that Specter turned Democrat in 2009 in a futile effort to win another term.

Ron Paul’s son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, has gone even further, saying on CNN Monday that Santorum is a “very liberal” candidate who voted for too much spending during his time in Washington office.

Hmm. Outflanking Santorum on the right might not be the most obvious strategy to pursue. After all, the former Pennsylvania senator is vehemently pro-life, and backed by some of Iowa’s most prominent evangelicals.

Santorum himself is pretty worked up about it. He’s blamed Paul’s campaign for what he (Santorum) says are robo-calls running Tuesday in Iowa that describe him as pro-abortion and anti-gun.

“Ron Paul is disgusting,” Santorum told a handful of reporters.

For his part, Paul over the weekend in a Fox News appearance said this of his rivals for the GOP nomination: “They come and they go, and they all belong to the status quo.”

Do they talk of Michelangelo? Just asking.

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Republican presidential candidate former Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks during a stop at his campaign headquarters in Davenport, Iowa, Monday. (Charles Dharapak/AP)

Iowa caucuses: Can 'relentlessly positive' Gingrich rebound with negativity?

By Staff Writer / 01.03.12

As Iowans prepare to head to the caucuses, things are getting ugly between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney.

Forget Mr. Gingrich's promises to keep his campaign "relentlessly positive." After being pummeled in Iowa by attack ads from multiple candidates – and watching his poll numbers dive as a result – Gingrich is launching some attacks of his own.

For starters, calling Mr. Romney a liar.

In recent days, the former House speaker has criticized Romney for not taking responsibility for the actions of the super PAC, Restore Our Future, which backs Romney and has spent millions on ads attacking Gingrich. "Someone who will lie to you to get to be president will lie to you when they are president," Gingrich said in Iowa on Monday.

On CBS's "The Early Show" Tuesday, Norah O'Donnell asked Gingrich to clarify those comments: "I have to ask you, are you calling Mitt Romney a liar?"

Gingrich said yes, and then added, "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.

"It's just like this pretense that he's a conservative. Here's a Massachusetts moderate who has tax-paid abortions in 'Romneycare,' puts Planned Parenthood in 'Romneycare,' raises hundreds of millions of dollars of taxes on businesses, appoints liberal judges to appease Democrats, and wants the rest of us to believe somehow he's magically a conservative."

Later Tuesday, Gingrich told Fox News: "Romney fails to tell the truth on three levels. He won't tell the truth about his own record; he is a Massachusetts moderate, not a conservative; he has failed to – refused to – tell the truth about his super PAC, which is run by his staff and funded by his millionaire friends. And his super PAC runs ads that are just plain lies."

Romney, who is currently far ahead of Gingrich in Iowa polls after trailing him last month, responded with a shrug.

"I understand Newt must be very angry, and I don't exactly understand why," he told Fox News. "I know that it's always tempting to look for someone else to blame, but at some point, you've got to stop and say, OK, what things can I do better?"

Romney added that his hands are tied when it comes to the PAC. "The super PAC that happens to endorse me has put some ads out – I can't control those. We're not allowed to have a coordination between a campaign and these independent PACs," Romney said.  "I'm sure they may have had an effect, but you know, the speaker's had just as much difficulty in the polls in New Hampshire as he has in Iowa, and I don't think there are any negative ads going on there."

Gingrich, who is currently averaging below 14 percent in Iowa in polls, behind Romney, Ron Paul, and Rick Santorum, has hedged in recent days when it comes to managing his own expectations for the caucuses. On Monday, he told reporters "I don't think I'm going to win," blaming the "volume of negativity" from his opponents.

But on Tuesday, he tried to take a more upbeat tone, saying that "everywhere we go there are a large number of undecided people.... Anybody could come in first."

Gingrich also said that – despite his feelings about Romney's honesty – he will support Romney if he is the nominee, saying "he will be much less destructive than Barack Obama."

(Not that he'll support any Republican nominee: Gingrich has made clear that Mr. Paul won't have his support even if he gets the GOP nomination.)

Gingrich may not have the money to start launching attack ads of his own, but his recent comments seem to make clear the direction he's headed: No more Mr. Nice Newt.

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Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during a campaign stop at Valley High School, Tuesday, in West Des Moines, Iowa. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Rick Santorum tears up ahead of Iowa caucuses. Why that's not a problem.

By Staff writer / 01.03.12

Time was when crying on the stump was a campaign killer, for both male and female candidates. Now, if anything, it’s a potential positive – as long as the tears are genuine.

And there was no doubting the authenticity of Rick Santorum’s emotion Tuesday at the Pizza Ranch, in Newton, Iowa, when he was asked about how he and his wife handled the death in 1996 of their son Gabriel, who was born prematurely.

A voter brought up Fox News liberal commentator Alan Colmes’s contention that the Santorums’ decision to bring Gabriel home after he died was “crazy.” The question struck a nerve. The former senator from Pennsylvania choked up as he explained that he and his wife, a former neo-natal nurse, wanted their children to meet their new brother before he was laid to rest.

“It was so important,” Santorum said, “for the family to recognize the life of that child and for the children to know they had a brother.”

His wife, Karen Santorum, stood beside him, weeping. One of their daughters came up and put her arm around her mother.

Mr. Colmes later said he apologized to the Santorums for the comment.

The episode only served to highlight Santorum’s status as a favorite among born-again Christians – a key portion of Iowa’s GOP base – in Tuesday evening’s Republican caucuses. That life begins at conception is a foundational belief among evangelicals.

Santorum, a devout Catholic, has spent more time in Iowa than any other candidate in the GOP field, often with his wife and seven children – and the effort is paying off. His late-breaking surge in polls points to a top-three finish on Tuesday – and possibly even victory.

The fact that Santorum is Catholic has not appeared to impede his rise in popularity among Iowa’s evangelicals, in a way that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism may have. More important is Santorum’s focus on family and social issues.

On Dec. 20, he was endorsed by Iowa social conservative leader Bob Vander Plaats. In 2008, Mr. Vander Plaats endorsed Mike Huckabee, that year’s come-from-behind caucus winner. On Monday, Santorum was endorsed by the Duggar family of Arkansas, famous for their 19 children, as featured on reality TV. Patriarch Jim Bob Duggar, his mother, and two of his daughters were at the Pizza Ranch in Newton with Santorum.

For Santorum, the show of emotion over the story of his stillborn son may not end up being an important part of the narrative of his Iowa caucus ride. But it certainly feeds the larger story that campaign tears, when sincere, are not the poison they used to be. Newt Gingrich shed some tears on Dec. 30 at a campaign forum, when asked about his mother. It was a one-day story.

For male candidates, in particular, the trend has been toward more discussion of family, not less. Dianne Bystrom, a political scientist at Iowa State University in Ames, found in a recent study of campaign ads that men talked about family in 18 percent of their ads, while women talked family in 8 percent.

“They’re both fighting stereotypes,” Ms. Bystrom says. “Men are trying to come across as caring and women are trying to fight the idea that they shouldn’t be in politics.”

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Too white? Iowa, which plays a big role in the presidential nominating process, is not racially representative of the US, a CNN correspondent recently noted. In this photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a caucus day rally at the Temple for Performing Arts, Tuesday, in Des Moines, Iowa. (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Too white? Iowa is 91% white, but does that mean it shouldn't vote first?

By Staff writer / 01.03.12

Is Iowa too white to be politically representative of the United States as a whole? That question arises because NBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell on Sunday implied that it was.

While interviewing GOP strategist Mike Murphy, Ms. Mitchell made this comment: “The rap on Iowa – it doesn’t represent the rest of the country. [It’s] too white, too evangelical, too rural.”

Conservative critics have leaped on Mitchell for injecting her opinions into the discussion. To be fair, however, she was clearly citing “critics” who say such things – and they do. In fact, she was almost directly quoting from a New York Times article of Dec. 17, which made much the same point while discussing Iowa’s relative economic stability.

“As the first state to take part in the Republican nominating contest, Iowa has long been criticized as too much of an outlier to be permanently endowed such an outsize influence in shaping the presidential field,” wrote the Times’ A.G. Sulzberger. “Too small, critics say. Too rural. Too white.”

It is the “white” part of this that may be raising the most hackles among conservatives. They point out that in 2008 then-candidate Barack Obama won the state and its seven electoral votes, after all.

Well, this is easy to check, isn’t it? And at first glance there is something to the criticism of Iowa as racially unrepresentative of the US. According to the US Census Bureau, Iowa is 91.3 percent white. The US as a whole is 72.4 percent white. Iowa’s population is 2.9 percent black, as opposed to 12.6 percent for the US as a whole. Latinos make up 5 percent of the state versus 16.3 percent of the US.

There is no denying that the Hawkeye State is something of an outlier here. But race and ethnicity are not the only factors that determine whether a state is representative of the US as a whole. It may not be the most important, either, politically speaking.

On other demographic measures – income numbers, union membership, seat belt use, high school graduation rate, and so forth – Iowa is much more like the rest of the nation.

“People imagine Iowa to be more unrepresentative than it really is,” noted Prof. John Sides of George Washington University on the Monkey Cage political blog last month.

In 2009, political scientists Michel Lewis-Beck of the University of Iowa and Peverill Squire of the University of Missouri took 51 different indicators of social, cultural, political, and policy activities and measured how Iowa compared with the rest of the US. Among their data points was state average income, consumption of alcoholic beverages, percentage of vanity license plates, and voter turnout.

Their conclusion: Yes, Iowa is whiter and older than other states. But on almost everything else, it was among the more average states in the US.

“Is Iowa representative? Yes, at least reasonably so,” the pair concluded in a monograph on the subject.

Specifically, Iowa is the 12th most representative US state, their numbers showed. This put it far ahead of early-voting rival New Hampshire, which struggled in 27th place.

“All things considered, there seems no cause to take away Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential selection status,” wrote Lewis-Beck and Squire.

IN PICTURES: Iowa caucus winners 

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Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, accompanied by his wife, Callista, makes remarks during a campaign stop in Independence, Iowa, Monday. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Staying positive may have cost Newt Gingrich Iowa. Will he change strategy?

By Staff writer / 01.03.12

Throughout his campaign, Newt Gingrich has had one consistent message: Stay positive. And he's seeing how well that's working out.

After leading polls in both the nation and in Iowa for about a month between mid-November and mid-December, the former House speaker has watched his support plummet in Iowa, where caucuses will be held Tuesday evening.

The latest Des Moines Register poll has Mr. Gingrich at 12 percent, down from 25 percent a month earlier. Moreover, the percentage of likely caucusgoers who chose Gingrich as their least-favorite choice rose from 6 percent to 23 percent.

On Sunday, Gingrich was asked whether he had been "swiftboated," (a reference to the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth who hurt John Kerry's campaign in 2004) and Gingrich responed that he had been "Romney-boated." He also criticized Mitt Romney for spending so much, saying that "Romney would buy the election if he could."

If it sounds as if Gingrich is getting more negative, he is – and expect even more in New Hampshire. Gingrich insists he still plans to stay positive, but that he'll tell the truth.

“We’re learning a lot about what our opponents will do,” Gingrich told reporters in Iowa over the weekend. “They are nastier and more dishonest than I expected. So we’ll have to make some adjustments.”

Any shift in strategy will likely come too late to help Gingrich in Iowa, where he has been hammered by ads on all sides: from Rick Perry, Ron Paul, and an external group that supports Mr. Romney. (Romney has used his own campaign funds to run only positive ads, a stance that Gingrich says is disingenuous given how brutally negative the pro-Romney political-action committee ads are.)

A recent analysis of ads in Iowa by Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group found that 45 percent of all ads since Dec. 1 attacked Gingrich. Just 6 percent of the ads were pro-Gingrich. In fact, the number of anti-Gingrich ads was more than twice the number of positive ads promoting Romney, Perry, and Paul combined.

The ads pummeled Gingrich for his ties to Freddie Mac, the embattled government-backed mortgage company, and for his joint support of a climate-change initiative with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat. 

It's hard to blame Gingrich's decline entirely on his refusal to go negative.

As Washington Post blogger Aaron Blake noted Monday, the negativity only works really well when the claims are substantiated.

"The main reason Gingrich has suffered is that there was simply so much material for his opponents to work with," Mr. Blake wrote, adding that Gingrich's lack of a clear message and lack of sufficient funds to get out many ads of his own also played a role.

Gingrich has made it clear in recent days that he regrets not responding to so much negativity. He still says he's waging a "relentlessly positive" campaign, but on Sunday in Marshalltown, Iowa, he outlined for reporters a very different tack that he'll take in the coming week.

"New Hampshire is the perfect state to have a debate over Romneycare and to have a debate about tax-paid abortions, which he signed, and to have a debate about putting Planned Parenthood on a government board, which he signed. And to have a debate about appointing liberal judges, which he did," Gingrich said.

"And so I think New Hampshire is a good place to start the debate for South Carolina."

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Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum campaigns at The Hotel Pattee in Perry, Iowa, January 2, 2012. (John Gress/REUTERS)

Rick Santorum's endorsement regret: Why he backed Romney in '08

By Staff Writer / 01.02.12

Rick Santorum may be emerging as one of Mitt Romney's toughest rivals in Iowa, but back in 2008, he was something else: a supporter.

The former Pennsylvania Senator has been getting flak lately for his 2008 endorsement of Mr. Romney.

"Governor Romney is the candidate who will stand up for the conservative principles that we hold dear," he said in a press release when he announced his endorsement four years ago. And he told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham that conservatives are "about traditional values and a traditional way of American life" and that Mitt Romney "understands that, it's not just in his head anymore, it's in his heart."

IN PICTURES: Iowa Caucus Winners

These are statements that are coming back to haunt Mr. Santorum now, as he tries to convince Republican voters that Romney isn't a true conservative – and that he, himself, is the only candidate who supports the social issues they care about.

When asked to explain the endorsement, the best response Santorum can offer is: It was politics. Essentially, his argument goes, he wanted anyone but John McCain to get the nomination. (The idea is, of course, analogous to many conservatives' attitude toward Romney today.) He didn't think Mike Huckabee could win it, and the only other alternative was Romney.

"I made, I hate to say it, a calculated political decision that Romney was the stronger horse and had a better chance to win Super Tuesday with the resources he had," Santorum said on Meet the Press Sunday. "I would have loved to have Mike Huckabee out there, but I made the political judgment, right or wrong, that [Romney] had the best chance to stop John McCain."

Santorum also noted that he wasn't exactly an early supporter – and that his endorsement didn't do much for his candidate.

“I endorsed him actually seven days before he dropped out of the race," he said.

Santorum's endorsement of Romney may seem like an odd choice now, given the positions that Santorum says he holds most important. (By 2008, Romney had already signed the Massachusetts health-care bill into law, had supported the court when it legalized gay marriage, and had in the past supported abortion rights.)

But though he's the only current candidate who backed Romney, other GOP candidates also had notable endorsements in 2008.

Rick Perry was one of the biggest endorsers of Rudy Giuliani – despite Mr. Giuliani's past positions on gay rights, gun control, and abortion.

"He's a results-oriented leader," the Texas governor said when he made the endorsement at Giuliani's side, adding that Giuliani was "best equipped to make the tough choices for a country at war." He also emphasized the importance of executive experience for a president – a theme he has continued in touting his own experience.

And Jon Huntsman Jr.'s very early endorsement of Mr. McCain also raised eyebrows.

Mr. Huntsman was governor of Utah and a Mormon, and Mitt Romney was the obvious endorsement choice – and had the backing of Huntsman's father, a prominent Utah businessman. Some people wondered whether the Huntsmans were hedging their bets, trying to have all the bases covered no matter who the eventual nominee was, or whether the governor was simply making a calculated decision about which administration offered him the best options.

Huntsman, who came out as a McCain supporter as early as 2006, cited a close friendship that the two had developed that was strengthened when they traveled to Iraq together to visit the troops. And in some ways he now seems like a logical heir to the "straight talk" McCain, refusing to toe the line on certain conservative issues.

Whatever the reason was, it's a decision Huntsman is probably pleased about now, since it allows him to avoid the awkward questions Santorum is now fielding.

As for Newt Gingrich? The former House speaker – and Romney's current rival in national polls – was shrewd, and never made a 2008 endorsement. He came close to running himself, before finally ruling it out in the fall of 2007. He was rumored at various times to be throwing support behind either Giuliani or Mr. Hucklebee, but never committed himself to a candidate.

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