Thoughts on Iowa debate

The loser was clearly the moderator. What was Alan Keyes doing there?

But I thought that Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, and Fred Thompson did well.

Interestingly, CNN and Fox both had dial focus groups. CNN had a Huckabee clip that he performed well on. Fox had Romney and Thompson.

Probably the most memorable piece was Thompson refusing to raise hands. That’s kinda lame.

I also think that Huckabee dodged a bullet. It could have been a great opportunity for everybody to whack at him. It was probably the last opportunity for people to do that. And it didn’t happen.

UPDATE: Also, there was Rudy Giuliani’s line that might come back to haunt him.

Romney goes negative on Huckabee

The first negative TV ad of the cycle comes out with Mitt Romney attacking Mike Huckabee’s immigration position.  The commentariat and the Huckabee campaign have responded pretty sharply.

Jonathan Martin called it "Mitt desperation".

Chris Cilizza said:

First, it attempts to blur any differences between Romney and Huckabee on issues of importance to social conservative voters by noting that both men are pro-life and favor traditional marriage … Quickly segues into another issue of real import to conservatives — illegal immigration — and seeks to show how Romney fought benefits for illegals in Massachusetts while Huckabee backed proposals for in-state tuition and even scholarships for illegal immigrants in Arkansas. … Why is he doing it? The ad amounts to an acknowledgment by Romney that his once-wide lead in Iowa has evaporated. Being the first candidate to go negative is always a risky strategy, but it’s clear that the Romney campaign believes they have no choice in the matter.

Marc Ambinder:

It means their internal polls confirm what the public polls are saying. …
The decision to run this ad is not universally popular within Romney’s campaign, judging from some early e-mail traffic.

And the Huckabee campaign responds with the endorsement of an anti-immigrant hero:

Mike Huckabee, under fire for some of his immigration stands while governor of Arkansas, picked up an endorsement in Council Bluffs, Iowa, from the ultimate illegal immigration opponent: Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman Project, the group that has roamed the border for the last several years operating effectively as an independent border patrol.

Fred’s all in?

The Weekly Standard in reporting through a blog and a story that Fred Thompson is "all in" in Iowa. From the story, the operative quote appears to be:

"Iowa is critical to our campaign, and it may in fact be everything to our campaign," says one Thompson official. "If we don’t do what we need to do in Iowa, it will be tough to compete effectively down the road."

"What we need to do" appears to be "come in third":

Thompson has said publicly that he needs to finish in the top three in Iowa. Campaign officials say that a strong third place finish–presumably behind new frontrunner Mike Huckabee and former frontrunner Mitt Romney–would likely give them enough momentum to survive New Hampshire and compete in South Carolina and beyond. A second place finish would be a victory. "Just when the interest is there the greatest, is when we’ll be here the most."

Of course, Fred’s problem is that he has nothing in New Hamsphire, Michigan, or Nevada. He needs some indication of his viability going into South Carolina .  Can we take this to mean that Fred will be "all out" on Jan. 4 if this doesn’t happen?

Yepsen on the Iowa caucus

The Politico and GWU sponsored a panel with local reporters from New Hampshire, Iowa, and Nevada.

David Yepsen had a couple of interesting things to say. He asserted that GOP turnout was likely to be about 90k, based on recent polling. In that context, he mentioned that there are 20k Mormons in Iowa. The point is merely that a highly-motivated group of people can have an outsized impact in the caucuses.

Another interesting line was that Rudy Giuliani’s campaign was based on the assumption of high national numbers. However, with the Shag Fund scandal, Yepsen said that "the air appears to be coming out of that balloon." I still believe that that fundamentally changes the rationale for all the other candidates in Iowa.

Romney, falling in IA polls, gives “Mormon Speech”

For months and months and months, there has been speculation that Mitt Romney would give a "Mormon Speech." There have been several reports that this has been an issue inside the usually disciplined Romney campaign. Well. He’s giving it on Thursday. Earlier Romney told the AP:

"I have some folks who think I should do it soon, some say later, some say never, some say right away," Romney said. "I’ll make the decision. But there’s no particular urgency because I’m making progress in the states where I’m campaigning."

Well. There’s urgency now. Romney is now clearly in 2nd in Iowa. There is now clear evidence that Romney’s religion is hurting him in Iowa, something that we predicted early on based on the strange makeup of the caucus electorate.

This is probably the clearest evidence yet that the Romney campaign understands how precarious its position is in IA. It will not be enough to simply attack Mike Huckabee in Iowa. Romney will have to find a way to build trust over their barrier of his religion. This is probably his last chance, and it is a … hail mary.

Romney’s IA immigration piece and his strange cynicism

Jonathan Martin posted the PDF of Mitt Romney’s immigration contrast mail piece in Iowa. He compares himself to the other top 4 GOP candidates. But look at the dates.

The thing that strikes me…. Romney’s position on immigration is defended with 2 quotes from 2007 and one from 2003 and 2004.  His quotes for Rudy Giuliani involve one from 2007. And a bunch from earlier. His quotes for Fred Thompson involve a 2007 analysis of much earlier facts. And earlier quotes. And his quotes for Mike Huckabee and John McCain are not of recent vintage at all.

It is undeniable that Mitt Romney flip-flopped on a whole bunch of things. And a number of people are comfortable with that. What I find so cynical about Romney is that he attacks people for formerly holding positions that he formerly held. Again, "flip-flopping for me, but not for thee." Thompson, especially, no longer holds the views that he was advocating back in the day. Huckabee has shifted to the right, something that I have blasted him on.

But you know? Romney has more money, and has done better polling. My gut is that he is going to pull this off. Not because his ideas are better. Simply because he is running a better operation. (Hillary Clinton, of course, is doing the same thing) That makes me sad.

‘Voters’ Who Broke Story on Romney Calls On Romney Payroll

I thought that I was going to have a nice quiet Thanksgiving. Perhaps not.

Erick Erickson at Redstate (disclosure I too contribute to Redstate) has uncovered some more information on the Mitt Romney phone scandal. Leon Wolf, another Redstate contributor who today endorsed Mitt Romney, also pointed out that this happened previously (described then) when Leon was on the Brownback campaign.

The basic facts are that a Romney staffer, Marshan Roth contacted the Salt Lake Tribune, identified herself as "leaning towards Romney", and told her story:

Marshan Roth, of Fairfield, Iowa, got a call on Wednesday night. It started out like a regular poll, she says, but then asked positive questions about Sen. John McCain and delved into disparaging things about Romney. She was asked whether she knew that Mormons have ‘baptized thousands of dead people’ and that the Book of Mormon was more important than the Bible to Mormons. ‘It was sick. It really was. It made me just furious,’ says Roth, who is leaning toward backing Romney. ‘If you didn’t know enough about McCain, you’d think he was the white knight coming in on his charger saving the world and that Mitt Romney was tantamount to the devil

Erick points out that Roth receives $500/month from the Romney campaign.

Similarly, Rose Kramer, another Romney staffer who describes herself as "a supporter," told a McClatchy reporter her story:

Rose Kramer was at her Dubuque, Iowa, home, waiting for the TV show ‘House’ to start at 8 p.m. Tuesday when a pollster called and started asking her about John McCain. After a few polite questions, the caller started saying unflattering things about Mitt Romney. Kramer, a Romney supporter, got so angry that she missed the opening of her show. ‘I was still ranting at my husband,’ she said.

Rose isn’t just a supporter. She is a staffer, making $1,000/month. She is also a co-chair of Romney’s Iowa Faith & Values Steering Committee.

It doesn’t stop there. Rose told a different story to Real Clear Politics:

Rose Kramer, an Iowa voter who backs Romney, told Politics Nation the call, which she received around 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, began with typical screening questions on whether she planned to caucus and if she had caucused before. After an initial ballot test — on which she says Romney’s name was listed last — the pollster offered five questions about John McCain, all of which she characterized as ‘glowing.’ Kramer said she asked the caller whether he was working for a campaign; he said no, his was an independent research group.

First, when Rose talked to McClatchy, it was Tuesday 8pm. With Real Clear Politics, it was 8:30 on Wednesday. She lied to one of the reporters.

Second, in both (all three?) cases, the Romney staffers highlighted the McCain questions. It seems to me that the Romney campaign was deliberately pushing the McCain angle.

Third, either the staffers didn’t disclose their relationship to the reporters or the reporters didn’t disclose it in their stories. My money is on the staffers, something that, as Leon pointed out before, Romney consultants in Iowa have done in the past.

This raises several questions:

First, is there any evidence that this poll contacted anyone in Iowa who was not a Romney staffer or supporter? If not, is there any evidence that the calls actually occurred? Could this be a story manufactured by the Romney campaign? After all, Western Wats only seems to talk through another Romney official, Justin Hart.

Second, were they directed by either Boston or Des Moines to deliver these messages? If so, were they told to hide their relationship with the Romney campaign?

Is Romney auditioning for FEMA Administrator?

UPDATE: Jonathan Martin had reported a non-Romney supporting phone call recipient.

The strange anti-Romney push poll

Let me start with a story.

Several years ago, in a swing House seat, volunteers for the Democratic candidate, started calling the finance committee of the Republican candidate, three days out. The message? That the Democratic candidate was a Jew and "we can’t let another Jew get in office." The Democrat volunteers identified themselves on the call as Republican volunteers. The Republican campaign was inundated with outraged phone calls from the finance team demanding that they stop. A couple of hours later, the Republican campaign obtained solid evidence that it was Democrat volunteers. And the Republican candidate called the Democrat candidate and threatened legal action of the calls didn’t stop. The Democrat candidate denied having anything to do with it, but the calls stopped within about 15 minutes of the calls.

The point is that sleazy, disgusting things happen in the world of telephones. And in the hurly-burly world of politics, there are plenty of examples of things not seeming what they are. And they involve vile attacks, usually bigoted, hitting highly targeted lists of people.

I use that as an introduction to the whole IA/NH anti-Romney push poll stories. Phil Elliott at the AP and the Politico’s Jonathan Martin have stories about this. Several facts jumped out at me that make it clear that this is a made for outrage, made for media thing.

First, they called a Romney supporting IA State Rep. From the AP story:

In Iowa, Romney supporter and state representative Ralph Watts got a call on Wednesday.

"I was offended by the line of questioning," Watts said. "I would be equally as offended if someone called and said in the nature of if, ‘you know the Catholic Church supported pedophile priests.’ I don’t think it has any place in politics."

My educated guess is that Rep. Watts was put on the list because he would report it to the Romney campaign and the media. I would assume that the next call by Rep. Watts was to the Romney IA state director. Again, made for media and made for outrage.

Second, the questions. It seems clear that there was an attempt to link this to the John McCain campaign. How do we know? According to Jonathan Martin, a bunch of the questions were positives about John McCain. Did McCain do this? Of course not. It doesn’t make any sense for them to be doing these in Iowa, where they basically aren’t competing. They are low on cash. And everyone knows that John McCain is a war hero. What’s the plus? Furthermore, as recent activity as indicated, they understand that they need to go through Rudy Giuliani, not Mitt Romney.

Third, there was also an attempt to muddy the waters by linking it to former vendor for Giuliani’s pollster. Although there is plenty of evidence that the Giuliani campaign is not behind it, at least not directly.

I have another question. If someone is trying to slime Mitt Romney with his religion, do they really go to a Utah-based call center run by people in Romney’s world? Wouldn’t they know that it would get out? What does it tell us if it doesn’t?

ARG, Fred, and Mitt

I normally don’t write about polls, especially ARG polls. But I was struck by two things in the most recent batch.

The first one, which lots of people have talked about is Mitt Romney’s rise in South Carolina. That’s new. Is it real? Is it TV moving numbers?

But the second thing is Fred Thompson. His collapse. In every state. What happened? Is that why Romney is rising? Are early state voters starting to really make up their minds?