Santorum Surge Watch: Iowa Joementum

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Dec. 28 2011 10:01 AM

Santorum Surge Watch: Iowa Joementum

Political writers of a certain age remember where they were when Sen. Joe Lieberman faced the cameras on New Hampshire primary night, 2004. The Democrats' last vice presidential nominee had managed to win only 9 percent of the Granite State's vote. This did not faze him. "We are in a three-way split decision for third place!" he said. With one phrase, he not only compared his showing to that of two guys who'd scored 12 percent; he gave us a memorable way to describe the bunch-up of candidates bringing up the rear.

With that: More from that new Public Policy Polling study of indecisive Iowans, which has four candidates in a split decision for third place. With trends from last week:

Ron Paul - 24% (+1)
Mitt Romney - 20% (+0)
Newt Gingrich - 13% (-1)
Michele Bachmann - 11% (+1)
Rick Perry - 10% (+0)
Rick Santorum - 10% (+0)
Jon Huntsman - 4% (+0)
Buddy Roemer - 2% (+2) [He's replaced Gary Johnson in the poll, as Johnson is probably switching to the Libertarian primary today.]
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Almost no topline movement. Like I wrote in the last post, Paul's maintained a 53 percent favorable rating from caucus-goers, down from 54 percent a week before. That's statistical noise. Compare it to Newt Gingrich, who's fallen to a 37 percent favorable rating from 46 percent -- a nosedive. So who's doing better week to week? Rick Santorum. He's moved from a net +20 favorable rating to a +27 rating. A week ago, when voters were asked for their second choice candidates, he was at the back of a four-way tie with Gingrich, Bachmann, and Perry. He's now the most popular second choice; only 14 percent, but not too bad.

Why does any of that matter? We just began the last week of campaigning. In 2008, the "entrance poll" of Iowa caucus-goers found that 40 percent of them made up their minds in this period -- 13 percent of them in the final weekend, 17 percent on the day of the caucuses. Santorum, in that third place scrum, with no one bothering to attack him, is perfectly poised for a last-minute surge. Or for a split decision for third place.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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