A strong presence in Iowa has lifted Mitt Romney over his Republican rivals in overall support and ratings of personal attributes alike. But his support is not strong, and likely caucus-goers overall are less than thrilled with their choice of candidates.
Only 19 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers in this ABC News/Washington Post poll say they're "very satisfied" with their choices in the presidential contest. By contrast 53 percent are "very satisfied" -- almost three times as many -- on the Democratic side.
The lack of Republican enthusiasm in Iowa plays out in several ways. If it holds 'til caucus day, it'd mean lower turnout; Iowans currently are less likely to say they'll attend a Republican caucus than a Democratic one. Low turnout could hurt candidates who do less well in the conservative Republican base, notably Rudy Giuliani.
But the lack of a spark also means there's plenty of room for preferences in Iowa to shift. Just 41 percent of Romney's backers support him "strongly," and across all the Republican candidates, strong support runs to just 46 percent. Strong support on the Democratic side in Iowa is 10 points higher, peaking at 60 percent for Hillary Clinton.
As things stand, 26 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers support Romney, with Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson -- who's not yet formally announced his candidacy, or campaigned in the state -- at 14 and 13 percent, respectively. John McCain and Mike Huckabee have eight percent support apiece.
Recalculating on the basis of second choice brings Romney and Giuliani closer -- to 20 and 18 percent, respectively -- with Thompson unchanged at 13 percent.
ABC News, in conjunction with WOI-TV in Des Moines, is sponsoring two candidate debates in Iowa -- one among the Republican candidates this morning, and another among the Democrats on Aug. 19. An analysis of poll results among likely Democratic caucus-goers was released Friday (see http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=3441459&page=1).
BEEN THERE -- Romney's support in Iowa is considerably better than his eight percent -- fourth, behind Giuliani, McCain and Thompson -- in the last national ABC/Post poll. The reason seems clear: Romney has worked Iowa, and worked it hard.
Among nine personal attributes tested in this poll, Romney's biggest advantage by far is as having "campaigned the hardest in Iowa." Forty-nine percent of Iowans say that best describes Romney, compared with single-digits for McCain (seven percent) and Giuliani (six percent), and almost no one for Thompson.
Even among people who don't support Romney, 42 percent say he's campaigned hardest, more than say so about anyone else. Among his own supporters that rises to 73 percent.
There's good basis for that perception: According to a count by The Washington Post, Romney has held 63 campaign events in Iowa this year, compared to 23 by McCain and 15 by Giuliani. And Giuliani, McCain and Fred Thompson all are bypassing next week's so-called "straw poll" in Ames.
Familiarity helps Romney with other attributes. Iowans are more apt to say Romney is closest to them on the issues (by 2-1 over the next closest, Giuliani), best understands their problems and is the most honest and trustworthy candidate in the field. Romney also runs competitively on the five other attributes tested in this poll, including strong leadership, experience and electability.