Iowa Ground Game

ABC News' Jonathan Karl and Radio Iowa's O. Kay Henderson.
8:13 | 01/01/12

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Transcript for Iowa Ground Game
Let's bring in two reporters who spent the past few days chasing candidates across the Hawkeye State. My friends ABC senior political correspondent Jon Karl and radio Iowa's. Okay Henderson happy new year guys I'm gonna start right with John John you've been covering in the Iowa Caucuses. Since 1996. What strikes you as different about this one. But we've never seen one that has been so up and down Jake I -- think about it look back six different candidates at one point or another held the lead or we're tied for the lead here in Iowa. Every single one currently in this race has -- on top with the exception of one and that's Rick Santorum and he's the guy coming up now this thing is wide open. And at that makes it frankly a lot of on the cover. And K you've covered every Iowa caucus since 198788. I'm interested to know. You see Mitt Romney. For the second time he campaigned. Last time -- and and he won the straw poll came second in the Iowa caucus now he's trying again for a win. Is he any different now than he was as a candidate for years ago. He is indeed he's a much more confident candidate on the stop there have been several instances where he -- that confidence. He also stuck to a campaign strategy that I don't think many people would have stuck to if they hadn't had the experience happened right before. Everything about this campaign is it reminds me a bit about 1996. The irony for me is the people who are running Romney's campaign on the ground here. Were running Lamar Alexander's operation in Iowa in 1996. That they know. What it's like to be facing surging candidates at the end and this may well turn out to be 1996. All over again where Bob Dole eked out a victory. Pat Buchanan was in the second place and Lamar Alexander got that third ticket out of Iowa. And John -- just talked about Romney's strategy in Iowa. It has been in muddled message of whether he's competing or whether he's not competing what has been the reality. Of Mitt Romney's strategy in the Hawkeye State. What will Romney made you know the campaign made much of being kind of hands off on Iowa noncommittal -- -- they didn't compete in the Ames straw poll. There was a big question over whether or not -- would actually really make a run in Iowa. But what I'm told is that Republicans here noticed that Romney has -- a subterranean campaign for a long time. He went to Republican events around the state going this part backs the summer there would be Romney people that are signing people up. Getting names getting phone numbers getting addresses -- had much more of a campaign in the state that he's let on now of course he is all that. K we haven't had a debate. And several weeks I'm actually going through debate withdrawal. Because we had them at seemingly every. Every day for several months and now we haven't had. Any but -- -- the debates that clearly work hugely impact fall. On Iowa voters. How have voters been getting their information. In the absence of these debates. They've been doing at the old fashioned way they've been listening to what the candidates are saying on the stop. And they're listening to these campaign ads. I think that's why you've seen Newt Gingrich also precipitously he didn't have a debate performance to sort of reassure. Islands that he was a -- Carry their message forward. And. And John Romney and his allies. -- pro Romney super -- plus of course congressman Ron Paul. They have been attacking Newt Gingrich. Viciously. On the airwaves. And according to one study that we talked about earlier. 45%. Of the TV ads run in Iowa have been anti. Newt Gingrich his. -- says -- to almost turn the other cheek. Can he continue to still have this nice guy policy. Absolutely not and -- I'll tell you right now objected. Gingrich himself is looking at this very carefully. He's made much of his promise. To be positive in fact when you go out with Gingrich on the stump here gets applause when he says we've stayed positive -- so he's doing this please -- -- a wonderful experiment. Can somebody who's been hammered. Remain positive. At least in his television advertising that's about to change look for a new Newt Gingrich. After Iowa I think he's gonna go on the attack on the attack in a very big way in South Carolina that's going to be aimed at -- wrong. And and John just to stay with you for a second as somebody who who covered Capitol Hill as have a high and Newt Gingrich. Is not historically known. Four sweetheart powder puff politics -- -- this is that this is a guy who has been rather tough. In years past right. Yeah I give it some say he's invented this this thing he now condemns and and listen to and now we talked about what it I mean nasty cruel business politics has become. And there's a big question whether or not he's the messenger to actually deliver that and ticket if you -- dig down into that to Moines register up poll you look at the question of who most relates to ordinary I -- Gingrich comes in dead last followed by Mitt Romney. But but -- -- the his message of being positive out here people like the idea in Iowa being you know a positive campaign. But up and it is -- thing one coming from Newt Gingrich. You know it's funny K because covering the Iowa Caucuses four years ago. It was almost as if any time anybody said anything negative. The press corps you know we we -- -- -- -- couldn't believe the horror that people were going negative. But what when -- out and -- low as as as I've been on this campaign season. Voters listen to these aunts and -- they read the fact checks in the newspapers and on TV and they consider this just another source of information. Indeed they do and in particular with Gingrich what it did it is it reminded them that they had problems with his marital history. They had problems with his legislative history that have problems with his history after he left congress. And so it was kind of a multiple choice and they got to beat -- which is. I'm nervous about him for all of the above and that's what the -- did they reminded people about the things that they didn't like about it. And one of the things that I write when I was out in Iowa a few weeks ago that I heard from Iowa Republicans is that the most important thing for them. Was they wanted to be. Barack Obama. That was the top priority. But how do you reconcile. The idea that according to the Des Moines Register poll almost half of the -- would be attendees. At the Iowa Caucasus think. That Mitt Romney would be the strongest opponent. And yet his support is less than half of that today they think he is the most electable. But did they just don't -- him for -- -- Well I think there's a difference between those voters to vote with their head and those who vote with their hearts. And I think that particular statistic -- but now. -- on that point. The other thing about turn out when you look act 41%. Those people who responded. Of likely caucus goers and that the -- register poll said that they were. You know convince -- -- they might vote for someone else on caucus night. I think the real thing for turnout at the caucuses is if they don't reach 2008 levels. That was so it's something which all Republicans have been talking about it that there's no enthusiasm. Whereas Republicans like governor Branstad have been indicating that you know Iowa Republicans are so enthusiastic to replace Barack Obama. -- among those 41% of people who say they're invincible they might vote for someone else if they just stay home because they're not interested in a candidate. I think that will be it really huge indicator about the Republican race in general and how enthusiastic Republicans are. About this 2012 race. All right we're down to the wire here one word your prediction K. John. I'll -- Santorum all right thanks so much and happy new year.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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