Why is that? Because none other than Ron Paul has just climbed to the top of the political ladder here in the great state of Iowa. The current GOP breakdown via PPPolling is as followings: Ron Paul 23%, Mitt Romney 20%, Newt Gingrich 14%, Rick Perry 10%, Rick Santorum 10%, Michelle Bachmann 10%, John Huntsman 4%, and 2% for Gary Johnson. (1)
Now if you had suggested such a thing several months ago, it might have shocked many (except Ron Paul supporters of course) but to those of us leaving here in Iowa, his current raise in Iowa polls is not only unsurprising, it seemed to have taken longer than many (including myself) expected. Now to be honest, I have personally discounted Ron Paul as having a real chance at the overall nomination and was even skeptical about how well he would do in Iowa. But one thing I did know was if Ron Paul was going to win anywhere, it would be here in Iowa. Why is that?
Well for one, I still remember the many Ron Paul fans/supporters here in Iowa from his 2008 campaign and few if any of them have ever lost faith in Mr. Paul's chances of winning. Not only that, but I was often surprised how many of my fellow Political Science majors in college like Ron Paul especially considering many were of VERY differing political views. There can be no doubt, Ron Paul is something of a political "rock star" with young voters like myself. Personally I chalk a lot of that support the fact that young voters are traditionally not only more cynical of politics but are also paradoxically idealistic in general and the "radical" message Ron Paul presents can be very appealing.
Another element of Ron Paul's success is his largely non-existent "flip-flops" in his political positions. In other words, the positions he holds on the major issues today haven't really changed for DECADES, and that kind of political morality is also very appealing to folks used to lying, thieving, and cheating politicians...ESPECIALLY here in Iowa where from a pretty young age I was taught that most if not all politicians are "slimy" and one normally has to choose between the lesser of two evils come election day. For a Presidential contender to come to Iowa with such a consistent message as Ron Paul is going to win him popularity regardless of his specific views on the issues of the day.
Further, some of Ron Paul views (especially about smaller government and deficit control) are issues that many Iowans are very supportive of and have been mobilized for thanks in part to the Tea Party movement (hence why Paul stylizes himself the "godfather" of the Tea Party movement) that gives me a solid base of support with not just Republicans but also with independents.
However, there has always been something of a ceiling for Ron Paul's support, both nationally and in Iowa. Part of this stems from the fact that Ron Paul is not exactly what you would call a social conservative, a group that holds a fair amount of sway in Iowa politics lately (much to my personally disgust) and as such will likely never really win them over. On a side note, keep an eye on Rick Perry come caucus day, I have a feeling these folks will flock to him when finally pushed to make a choice..
Reinforcing these points is some of the other results from the new poll. For example, when asked who Iowa Republicans thinks has run the best campaign here in Iowa, Ron Paul scores at 22% compared to just 8% and 5% for Gingrich and Romney respectively. Only Bachmann scores close to Paul at 19% (and as many times as she calls my folks that's no big shock). So clearly, more Iowans think Paul has done a better job of campaigning here in Iowa than any of his rivals, and MUCH better than the other two "front runners". And that brings me to Paul's campaigning here in Iowa.(1)
For the first time that I can remember, Ron Paul has actually invested A LOT in television ads, certainly much higher than any previous election. His first ads were somewhat dark and gloomy and didn't exactly catch most folks attention. However that changed with his more recent ads which are much more..Eye-catching. This includes a setup that really reminds me of a Ford truck ad, which is telling since truck commercials are like political ads in that they are trying to embarrass and one-up their competitors. It also includes a comical comparison of how politicians often talk a big talk in the election season but after the election they get kinda quite (using dogs no less). Overall, its a pretty unusual political ad and because of that it has likely caught a lot of folks' attention and this seems to have translated in this new poll (and several others that have come out over the last 3 days). And when you take these new tactics into account with the rather blatant absence of the other two front runners in Iowa over the last few weeks, its no shock their numbers have either yo-yo'ed or remained unchanged.
And that is the second big story of this poll: the fall of Newt Gingrich. Newt got a big boost when Herman Cain finally imploded (long over due) and soared to the top of polls across the nation even though his campaign has been largely non-existent (especially here in Iowa). This was likely partially thanks to his existing name recognition and the fact that he was just the latest of the "Not-Romney" candidates to rise and now seemingly fall. Now for the record, Newt's fall isn't just limited to here in Iowa. While he remains on top of most state polls as of late, his lead in these states is beginning to erode and his national numbers have fallen as well. For example, Gallup's tracking has Gingrich's national support falling from 37% in the 1st week of December now down to 28%, a nine point drop in less than two weeks. (2) Now whether Newt's lead will completely collapse as his predecessors to the "Not-Romney" position did is unclear. I think he has some real staying power but his massive lead is likely to disappear between now and the Iowa Caucus, which will actually make the race a bit more exciting.
But here is the difference between Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich's rise here in Iowa. Newt's was based on his simply NOT being Mitt Romney and did so without even really campaigning here. Paul's rise is based on the fact he isn't Romney OR Newt in that he has been politically consistent over his career not a flip-flopper. Further, he has actually campaigned heavily in Iowa and has a dedicated corps of supporters that are determined to get his name out there (including by placing signs in seemingly EVERY corn/bean field between my home and Des Moines). Long story short, Ron Paul's numbers are based a real foundation where as Newt's is based on..little more than hot air.
So at least for the moment, Iowa is starting to look like Ron Paul country, and if so, good for Mr. Paul. However, as Mike Huckabee will testify, simply winning here in Iowa will not guarantee victory, it's translating this small victory into real momentum and in his cause proving the nation his not just some crazy guy from Texas (as opposed to the other Texan who is not so much crazy and just.."not sharp") and can really win the highest office in the land. He isn't really the candidate for me, but I will give credit where it is due, and Mr. Paul has earned this new poll. I just hope he doesn't squander it.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author and not that of the Modern Whig Party or any other political organization.