21 Days Out: Good Morning, Iowa

Good morning from Des Moines. We are 21 days out from the Iowa caucuses. We here at "Good Morning, Iowa" are always open to news tips, suggestions and praise … critiques too. Thanks to the other morning notes from which this takes much of its inspiration. We love all the suggestions and tips we have received in the past few days. Keep them coming.

There's only three weeks to go, but Rick Santorum is the only candidate in the state today … again. He is making four campaign stops: a town hall in Belle Plain, a stop in Waterloo, another town hall in Manchester (that's Iowa) and this evening he'll address the National Contract Management Association in Marion.

Weather: Good news: it's 36 degrees out. Bad news: it will rain for most of the day. Wellie weather.

Make sure to check out today's Note: Slouching Toward the GOP Nomination?

This is the front page to which Des Moines residents are waking up today:

What's in the Register?

On the front page, William Petroski (@WilliamPetroski)  takes a look at how the threat of a nuclear Iran is becoming the No. 1 foreign policy issue on the campaign trail: The GOP candidates agree the world would be more dangerous if Iran obtains nuclear weapons. But there are differences on how to prevent the Islamic republic from acquiring a nuclear bomb, especially on whether the emphasis should be on military force, or whether diplomacy and economic sanctions should be the main focus.

"In the short term, Iran is likely to be at the epicenter of any crisis the next president faces; the next 3 a.m. phone call," said Iran expert Michael Rubin, a senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Read the whole story here.   

Santorum: Columnist Kathie Obradovich (@KObradovich) sat down with Rick Santorum Monday for her   Conversations with the Candidates, a series on Iowa Public Television. Santorum is no Donald Trump. Or Kim Kardashian, for that matter. The former Pennsylvania senator riffed on the celebrity culture and politics today. Santorum is the only candidate other than Newt Gingrich who has agreed to appear at a debate moderated by Donald Trump Dec. 27. But Santorum was snarky today about candidates who have curried Trump's favor: "I haven't been visiting Donald Trump in New York, which I thought was sort of funny that everybody that visited Donald Trump now says they're not going to go to a debate with him.  I never went and kissed the ring of Donald Trump, saw it as endorsement and I'm not afraid of Donald Trump."

Santorum didn't mention that Gingrich met with Trump earlier this month and he's still planning to participate in the debate. Santorum did opine that Trump's influence stems from his celebrity. "We're a celebrity-driven culture and he is a celebrity and that is, you know, television does that to folks and people want to hear and are interested in folks like Kim Kardashian for some unknown reason.  Why?  Because she's a celebrity."

Santorum, however, doesn't think he qualifies as a celebrity, although people recognize him occasionally. "I travel by myself, I carry my own bags, I'm sitting middle seats on United Airways flights or Delta flights and maybe they just don't expect to see you but most people are very pleasant as I travel around and, no, I don't think I'm at the celebrity status at this point." And read more excerpts here

Timmy Talks:   Albrecht's (@TimAlbrechtIA) insight and wisdom for the day.

Ron Paul is for real in Iowa, and is drawing enormous crowds on college campuses throughout the state. They have to cultivate that, however. Here's why: The Iowa caucuses are three weeks from tonight. In between that time, there are college finals, Christmas, an Iowa State bowl game, an Iowa Hawkeye bowl game, New Year's Eve, New Year's Day and good times with high school chums. And the biggest distraction of all: These students are scattered in every one of Iowa's 99 counties, and in a majority of Iowa's 1,774 precincts. Paul's campaign has got to find a way to engage these students in their hometowns, a much more difficult task than when they are consolidated on a college campus. If Paul successfully does this, he will have a very good night Jan. 3.

Sweater Vest Threat Level: Navy Blue (GMI Note: This is the same as Sen. Santorum's Monday.)

Paul: The Texas congressman won another straw poll:  A straw poll of Drake University students painted Ron Paul as the night's big winner. With 429 votes, the Texas congressman garnered 35 percent of the 1,223 total ballots cast to place first in the contest. Second place winner Mitt Romney won 311 votes, or 25 percent, and third place winner Newt Gingrich won 128 votes, or 10 percent.  No other candidate won a double-digit percentage share.

Kevin Hall at the Iowa Republican reports: Bob Vander Plaats and his Family Leader organization plan to make a decision on whether or not to make an endorsement, and whom they might endorse, by next Monday. The group's backing is one of the most sought after in the GOP presidential race, especially in Iowa. Vander Plaats tells TheIowaRepublican.com that The Family Leader's board of directors will wait until after Thursday's presidential debate in Sioux City before convening another meeting to discuss their endorsement.

Four candidates are still in the running for the social conservative group's backing: Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum. Gingrich is the only one of the four who did not sign the Family Leader's controversial " Marriage Vow" pledge. On Monday, the Family Leader released Gingrich's own version of the pledge. Vander Plaats likes what Gingrich wrote, but should that be enough to earn the Family Leader's endorsement? The group clearly stated that a prerequisite to their support would be signing the "Marriage Vow."

Why would it even consider backing Gingrich? Could the other candidates have created their own pledge? "That's going be a great question because if you read the pledge that he wrote and submitted, there's a lot of our verbiage in there," Vander Plaats said. "He takes some strong stances on life, marriage and religious freedom. As we read it, we wondered why he didn't sign the pledge, but he did almost everything we talked about and used a similar language."

Perry: Hall also reports that the name of an activist supporting Santorum accidentally made its way on to a Perry supporter list: It's another " oops" moment for Rick Perry. His presidential campaign announced the members of the "Veterans for Perry" coalition Monday, but the list includes at least one Iowan who does not support the Texas governor. Lee Booten of Ankeny is one of 13 names on the Iowa steering committee. But Booten supports Rick Santorum for president 

Santorum-mentum: Craig Robinson  (@IowaGOPer)  notes that Santorum got the endorsement Monday of influential pastor and activist Rev. Terry Amann 

This is the front page to which Cedar Rapids residents are waking up today:  

What's in the Gazette?

Santorum: James Q. Lynch (@smg_lynch) went to the former Pennsylvania senator's town hall at Cornell College in Mt. Vernon Monday. The first question, and a recurring theme of his question-and-answer session, was about marriage and his opposition to same-sex marriage. Santorum defended traditional marriage, telling students that children, "by every qualitative and quantitative study - and common sense - do better in homes with a mother and a father."

Traditional marriage - one man and one woman - is "something of nature … not only biblical, but a reflection of nature," he said to a skeptical audience.

Challenged on the idea of government telling people who they can love, Santorum agreed everyone has "the right to love whoever you want. The question is, he said, whether the law should be changed to accommodate same-sex marriage. "Why is it a good thing for society?" he asked, adding that those who want to change the law should "come into the public square and make your argument."

In Iowa, he continued, that's not what the proponents of same-sex marriage did. "They went to the courts because they knew they couldn't win in the public square," Santorum said, adding that in 32 state referendums on legalizing same-sex marriage "it's 0-and-32. In the 32 states where public voted, traditional marriage won," he said 

This is the front page to which Sioux City residents are waking up today:   

What's in the Sioux City Journal?

Bret Hayworth (@SCJBretH) notes that when the candidates are in Sioux City later this week for the Fox News debate, they will be making other stops in Northwest Iowa.

The paper also has a helpful bar and restaurant guide for out-of-town journos visiting Sioux City for the Fox News debate.

Analysis from Matthew Dowd and James Carville on "Good Morning America."  And a rundown of where things stand in the GOP race three weeks before the Iowa caucuses from ABC News' John Berman.   

Air Wars

Paul: ABC News' Jason Volack (@JasonVolack) reports that Ron Paul's campaign has launched a new ad going after former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's influence-peddling. The "Selling Access" ad intertwines Gingrich's own words with several television talking heads, accusing the former speaker of receiving $1.8 million from mortgage giant Freddie Mac before it collapsed and receiving $37 million from the health care industry. The ad then ties Gingrich with the individual mandate clause in the Affordable Care Act, the health care overhaul pushed by President Obama, and adds: "Newt Gingrich has been on the both sides of a long list of issues."

Then Gingrich's own words are used as he is seen bragging about earning $60,000 a speech. "I was charging $60,000 a speech - normally celebrities leave and they gradually sell fewer speeches every year - we were selling more."

The ad, which the campaign said it will "promote prominently on conservative web sites," comes on the heels of the Web and television ad "Serial Hypocrisy," which also used news clips to slam Gingrich's work since leaving public office 13 years ago.   

Perry: ABC's Arlette Saenz (@ArletteSaenz) reports that the Texas governor has a new ad out today in the state. Perry characterizes himself as the outsider and truth-teller who will put aside political correctness to overhaul Washington, D.C. "Washington is the capital of political correctness, where double speak reigns and truth is frowned upon," Perry says as he looks directly into the camera. 

"You can't say that congressmen becoming lobbyists is a form of legal corruption or that we give aid money to countries that oppose America.  Or that Washington insiders are bankrupting Social Security.  You and I know it's true, but not politically correct.  I'm Rick Perry, an outsider who will overhaul Washington and tell you the truth."

Perry's new ad, the latest in the campaign's million-dollar advertising push in the final weeks before the Iowa caucuses, comes a day before he begins a 42-city bus tour through Iowa Wednesday.   

Gingrich: ABC News' Michael Falcone (@michaelpfalcone) and Russell Goldman (@RussellGoldman) report on Gingrich's personally written fidelity vow to the Family Leader Monday. Newt Gingrich, who has married three times, promised personal fidelity going forward and provided a lengthy written response to an Iowa social conservative group's so-called "Marriage Vow."

But he did not sign the pledge. "I also pledge to uphold the institution of marriage through personal fidelity to my spouse and respect for the marital bonds of others," Gingrich wrote in response to the Family Leader's request for him to sign the 14-point pledge.

Gingrich also promised to "enforce the Defense of Marriage Act," to support a "federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman" and to "oppose any judicial, bureaucratic or legislative effort to define marriage in any manner other than as between one man and one woman," among other things. The group's leader, Bob Vander Plaats, an influential conservative in the state, said members of the organization were "pleased that Speaker Gingrich has affirmed our pledge and are thankful we have on record his statements regarding DOMA, support of a federal marriage amendment, defending the unborn, pledging fidelity to his spouse, defending religious liberty and freedom, supporting sound pro-family economic issues, and defending the right of the people to rule themselves."

"Speaker Gingrich did not sign the pledge, but provided his written response affirming the principles laid out in the Marriage Vow," according to a statement from the group 

Santorum: After his Des Moines event Monday, the former Pennsylvania senator was asked about Romney's $10,000 bet gaffe at Saturday night's debate. Santorum said he was "taken aback" by Mitt Romney's $10,000 bet at Saturday night's ABC News presidential debate, suggesting that "a nickel or a dollar" would have been a more appropriate amount.

"I was a little taken aback by it," Santorum told reporters Monday after a campaign event here. "That would not be a number I would have thrown out. I either say a nickel or a dollar. I use, 'I'll bet you a dollar' or 'I bet you a nickel.' … As the father of seven children, nickels and dollars are easier to come by than $10,000," Santorum said

"It was in his book," Santorum said, referring to Romney's  "No Apology." "I've seen it. I don't know why Mitt keeps running away from it. If you changed your mind - this is not something new - he changed his mind."

Santorum also turned his fire on Newt Gingrich. He told reporters that he was troubled by Gingrich's past work for Freddie Mac. "Look, I think the fact that he went out and lobbied for an organization, in my opinion, was not consistent with the conservative values we have," Santorum said. "I just wouldn't do that."

Santorum later clarified that Gingrich wasn't actually registered as a lobbyist but was "someone who spoke on behalf of Freddie," and that, he said, would be enough to create a liability for the former House speaker should he win the Republican nomination.

"There is a difference between someone who goes out and speaks on behalf of the company and someone who is actively engaged in meeting with members of Congress, but it's a difference. It's not apple and oranges," he said. "It's different kinds of apples and that's what I think the American public may see and certainly I can assure you that's what Barack Obama is going to see if he's the nominee of the party."   

Dems Speak: Megan Jacobs of the Iowa Dems tells GMI they put out a Web video today playing on Romney's $10,000 bet gaffe. After stepping up his efforts in Iowa with big media buys, a new office and added staff, Romney was probably expecting to come out of the Des Moines debate with the wind behind his back," an Iowa Democrats release reads. 

"But, instead, he demonstrated once again how out of touch he is with the middle class.  As one Iowan told KCRG, "we'll give you one chance, two if you need it."

That's not good news for Romney, who has already had to explain why he thinks "corporations are people" and a $1,500 tax cut for working families is just a "little Band-Aid." 

Take a look at how Romney's gamble is playing throughout Iowa. It's clear the Romney strategy to win Iowa is to throw millions into advertising in the final weeks before the caucus. I'll bet any amount of money that caucus goers prefer a candidate whot spends time with them and explains their flip-flops than someone who just throws money at the state.

The New York Times' Susan Saulny (@ssaulny)  reports that Iowa evangelicals are split over a caucus endorsement. Bob Vander Plaats, president of the Family Leader, a conservative advocacy group popular with evangelical Christians here, has been saying supportive things recently about Newt Gingrich, suggesting that social conservatives are open to looking past his extramarital affairs and two divorces as they make a choice in the Republican presidential race.

Yet ask Vander Plaats which candidate he will back, and he has no answer yet. His indecision highlights the searing divisions among conservative Christian voters in Iowa, where matters of faith and personal morality are driving intense and sometimes emotional debates among evangelicals about principle and electability. The landscape could not be more different from 2008, when evangelicals propelled Mike Huckabee, a former pastor, to victory after he used his connections in the state's churches and home-schooling community to drive people to show up at the caucuses.

At stake this time is whether Gingrich, despite a past that some conservative Christians say should disqualify him, can benefit from the aversion of many evangelical leaders to Mitt Romney, whose Mormon faith and history of having once supported abortion rights have left many on the religious right wary. Or whether the support of evangelicals will be dispersed, undercutting their influence and giving the rest of the field a clearer shot at a strong showing. Other candidates, such as Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, Rick Santorum, the former senator from Pennsylvania, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry of Texas are also aggressively courting evangelicals."   

Iowa Fact of the Day: Iowa ranks No. 1 in the United States in corn and soybean, hog and egg production.

Who's Tweeting About Iowa?

@ DavidChalian : Messina says that Obama 2012 has more staffers on the ground in Iowa than any of the GOP candidates.

@TweetRobJohnson: At Linn County Republican Central Committee. "Nearly Elvis" just took the stage.  

@MattMackowiack New Perry TV ad takes aim at Washington, doubles down on "outsider" label - 

The Schedule:

10:30 a.m. CT - Bell Plaine, Iowa: "Faith, Family, and Freedom" town hall at the Lincoln Café (1214 8 th Avenue, Belle Plain, IA)

1:30 p.m. CT - Waterloo, Iowa: Will visit VGM & Associates (1111 West San Marnan Drive, Waterloo, IA)

4:00 p.m. CT - Manchester, Iowa: "Faith, Family and Freedom" town hall at Fireside Pub and Steakhouse (205 South 12 th Street, Manchester, IA)

6:30 p.m. CT - Marion, IA: Address to the National Contract Management Association at the Campbell Steele Gallery (1064 7 th Avenue, Marion, Iowa)

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