29 Days Out: Good Morning, Iowa

Good morning from Des Moines. We are 29 days out from the Iowa caucuses and this is the first public installment in a daily-ish note on everything going on in the first caucus state each day. We are just trying this out so suggestions, comments, and praise are all welcome. Critiques too. Thanks to the other morning notes that this takes much of its inspiration from.

Only Rick Santorum is in the Hawkeye state today holding events in the northwest part of the state to try and move those poll numbers to reflect all of the work he’s put in barnstorming the state. So far he hasn’t been able to make that happen only moving up one point to 6 percent in the Des Moines Register’s Iowa poll released this weekend. But GMI will drive the four hours today to see Santorum and we’ll share with you what we find in tomorrow’s edition.

 This is the front page Des Moines residents are waking up to today:  What’s in the Register Today? They have full coverage of all their poll results and they examine the “ocean of fluidity” still at play a month out. The amount of undecided or persuadable voters here is over 70 percent.

The Register’s Jason Clayworth looks and how much could change in a month including the potential for the lower tier to rise. Clayworth also looks at what the three frontrunners here: Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Mitt Romney have to do on the ground to win the caucuses next month.

As for the passionate Paul supporters here, this quote stands out: “I tend to believe Paul’s people when they say they have 20,000 people committed to an Iowa caucus turnout,” said Mike Mahaffey, a former Iowa GOP chairman, tells Clayworth. “Can he get 3,000 to 5,000 more and make it even more interesting?  The Register’s Jason Noble reports that the poll shows “campaign-trail calls from Republican presidential candidates to eliminate federal agencies and departments are resonating among Iowa’s likely caucus voters.”

The poll, conducted last week, showed wide support among Republican caucus goers for closing several prominent federal offices. Sixty percent favor shuttering the Department of Housing and Urban Development; 57 percent support extinction of the Environmental Protection Agency; and 54 percent favor expelling the Department of Education. More here:  Jennifer Jacobs has the three questions out of the poll and we’ll be watching these closely as Jan. 3 approaches.  Will Gingrich hold up as front-runner? Is Paul a real threat to win the caucuses? Can Romney regain his traction?

Endorsement Watch: Jacobs reports that social conservative Iowa activist Phyllis Schlafly has endorsed Michele Bachmann. In a written statement, Schlafly says: “If I were an Iowa voter, I would be making plans right now to cast my vote for Michele Bachmann for president on January 3. I hope you will take advantage of this golden opportunity to support a candidate we can all be proud of.”

State of the Race: Craig Robinson over at TheIowaRepublican.com has his take on where the candidates currently rank today. He has Romney first followed by Gingrich and then Paul.

Worth checking out:  Jobless in Iowa: ABC News and Yahoo! have their first joint reporting venture ahead of this weekend’s GOP presidential debate, sponsored by ABC News, Yahoo, the Iowa Republican Party and the Des Moines Register. Yahoo’s senior national affairs reporter Zachary Roth and I examine joblessness in this state and how it could affect next month’s caucuses.

Colette Noble’s kids used to tell her, “You’ll never lose your job–you work too hard.” Noble’s voice choked up and her eyes welled with tears as she recounted the exchange. “I used to say, ‘You know what–you never know,’ ” she said, during an interview last week at a Starbucks here.”There are lots of good people who worked hard that lost their jobs.”  Her long and fruitless search is hardly uncommon.

The political class thinks of Iowa these days mostly as a staging ground for the long presidential campaign surrounding January’s first-in-the-nation caucuses (including Saturday’s Republican presidential debate at Drake University, sponsored by Yahoo! and ABC News). But for many people in Iowa, the most important day-to-day concern is the state’s struggle, along with the rest of the country, to throw off the effects of the Great Recession and the halting recovery that’s followed. Although low by national standards, Iowa’s official unemployment rate has spiked to 6 percent–around 99,000 people–from 3.7 percent in 2007, before the economic downturn began. And jobless spells are lasting longer than ever.

 Iowa’s long-term unemployment rate–the share of the 99,000 unemployed who have been out of work for six months or more–is 34 percent, nearly twice what it was before the downturn began.  The video package that goes along with the joint reporting project talks to Noble and looks at a group trying to help the jobless here, Unemployed Des Moines.

Gingrich: ABC News looks at Gingrich’s organization a month out from the caucuses and in the middle of the candidate’s surge. They are trying to catch up, but if they win it will be just as much about the volunteers the candidate inspires than the ground game organization:  Some nuggets: Gingrich’s Iowa co-chair, Greg Ganske, a former congressman and plastic surgeon in Iowa, admitted the campaign “got behind (in organizing) because of the summer troubles.”

Jeff Kaufman is the speaker pro tem of the Iowa House of Representatives, the third highest ranking position in the Iowa House, and he’s also Gingrich’s senior policy advisor…Kaufman said the campaign is working “around the clock right now to put the mechanics and process in place.”

“Obviously it’s a bit late in the game to find a county chair for every county, but in every county you are likely to identify people who are Gingrich supporters,” Kaufman said. “There is no doubt about it, you are not going to see a Ron Paul-like machine at the caucuses…What you are going to see in the next 29 days is Newt Gingrich everywhere. I believe that he’s going to depend on being in every corner of this state and I think you are going to see that constant presence here.”

“There’s nothing that the Gingrich campaign can do with paid staff to reach their poll numbers. They are going to have to rely on volunteers organically organizing themselves to get to that point,” Albrecht said. “Now the big unknown is if a large enough segment turns out enough of the vote that he needs to reach his poll number on caucus night. That remains to be seen.”

The Gingrich team just opened their first office in the state last week with no plans to launch others at this time…The campaign was just getting the office up and running with signs waiting to be hung two days after they opened when an ABC News reporter stopped by. Due to a gas leak in the building, it was empty aside from Schoenfeld and one volunteer. A strong smell of gas greeted the reporter, but Schoenfeld was still working saying he told the rest of the staff to work from home while they aired it out.

And Even More Gingrich: The New York Times also has a great story on how Gingrich is trying to catch up to Romney in organization here and all over the country:

Surging in polls is one thing. But as Newt Gingrich seeks to turn his impressive performance in surveys into votes, he is scrambling madly to build the kind of organization that Mitt Romney has methodically put in place for a year, one that will let him compete through all 50 contests, often in multiple states at once.

Enthusiasm Over Organization: ABC Political Analyst Matthew Dowd agrees with what the Gingrich team is hoping for: enthusiasm is actually much more important than organization – even here in Iowa: “What is needed in the Iowa Republican Caucus is energized voters and momentum going into that day. If you have those things, an organization is not a real necessity. For example, by nearly every account, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty had the best organization around going into the Ames Straw vote, but he didn’t have momentum or energy. So he finished third, and dropped out of the race the next day. … So in the next 30 days, don’t watch the organization. Watch for the outward signs of momentum, energy and passion for a candidate. Whichever candidate has got that spirit over the Christmas holidays is the bright star real political magi need to follow to figure out the winner in little towns throughout Iowa.”

 The Ad Wars Are On: ABC News Arlette Saenz reports on where all the candidates’ advertising stands in Iowa today. She has all the money details as well.

Gingrich: The former Speaker of the House leads the Republican pack in the Hawkeye State, will release his first television ad Monday. Titled “Is The America We Love A Thing Of the Past? Newt Says No,” the minute-long ad will appear statewide on broadcast and cable with an ad buy of $250,000. It is unknown how long the TV spot will run. Gingrich currently sits atop the Republican field but has yet to promote himself via advertising this campaign cycle, relying instead on media coverage of his speeches and debates.

Romney: Mitt Romney’s campaign announced last week that they would roll out their first advertisement, titled “The Right Answer,” in Iowa. A source tracking campaign ad buys told ABC News Romney has purchased $252,000 in broadcast in the Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Sioux City markets along with $13,000 in statewide cable on Fox News that will run for a week beginning Wednesday through Dec. 13.

Paul: Rep. Ron Paul…is pouring $429,000 in advertisements on broadcast and cable for two weeks, running from Monday through Dec. 20, according to a source with knowledge of the buy.

Perry: The Texas governor has spent $3.5 million dollars nationally in advertisements, with the bulk of it being in the Hawkeye State. Perry’s most recent ad purchase totaled $89,000 for his ads called “Faith” and “Energy Jobs” between Sunday and Tuesday, a source with knowledge of the ad buy told ABC News. Last Thursday, Perry also aired an ad drawing attention to his debate gaffe before and after he appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”

The pro-Perry super PAC, Make Us Great Again, has tried to promote the Texas Governor through television ads as well. Starting this week, the super PAC placed an advertising buy for the week of December 3 through December 11 at a value of $297,000 in Iowa and South Carolina. the ad, totled “Elites,” attempts to paint a contrast between the Texas governor and “Washington elites wrecking America” by highlighting his reform proposals that aim to balance the budget, simplify the tax code and free the country from its dependence on foreign oil. Make Us Great Again has spent a total of $1.1 million in advertisements touting the Texas governor. Saenz also has more on the Gingrich ad buy, the first here for the newly crowned frontrunner:  http://abcn.ws/vXZ2U5 Roll Call’s Shira Toeplitz has a great look on how different the candidates’ Iowa ground games and organizations are this year.

“Frankly, a lot of these campaigns are under-prepared right now for what it’s going to take. Take Gingrich: He didn’t even have any staff until two weeks ago, and he’s leading the polls,” said Doug Gross, a top Iowa Republican operative not affiliated with a campaign this time around. He worked for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2008. “If you really want to outperform or perform your poll numbers, you really have to be organized. December is going to be everything for these candidates,” Gross said.

Quotable Iowa: Romney on Saturday from Manchester, N.H.  on whether he needs to be here more: “Gosh, I’ve been there in the last three weeks I think twice and I’ll be there again next week and the week after. I’ll be in Iowa just like I’m here in new Hampshire and South Carolina. I’m going to spend some time in South Carolina and Florida. There are a lot of early primary states and I’ll be spending as much time as I can in each one of them. I said from the very beginning we were going to play Iowa and every state,” Romney said. “We’re playing in Iowa, we’re playing here in new Hampshire in a big way, and likewise in south Carolina, Florida. I’d like to win them all. I don’t think that’s extremely likely, but I hope to do very well in all the states and get enough support to show that we’re serious and that we intend to take back the White House.”

Santorum on his coming boomlet to ABC News’ Christiane Amanpour on This Week: “So if you look at all of these little boomlets, they last about four to six weeks. Newt is in about week three,” Santorum told Amanpour yesterday. “So we feel pretty good that, you know, come the middle of December and toward the end of December, as candidates are looking for a candidate they can trust, someone that is authentic, someone who knows what they believe in and why they believe it, and has a record to back up the rhetoric as to what they want to do to change this country, because we do need big changes, well, who has been doing that?”

Bachmann on Fox News Sunday on whether she will continue her campaign if she doesn’t come in first or second on Jan. 3. Note she again cites her Ames straw poll win:

“Well, we’ll talk about that after Jan. 3,” Bachmann told Chris Wallace. “But we fully intend to win in Iowa. You know, Chris, no one thought I was going to win the straw poll in Iowa this summer and I did. No one thought I would win my tough races in the state of Minnesota. I was the first Republican woman ever to get elected in that state to go to Congress, but I did.”

Who’s Tweeting About Iowa:

@TimAlbrechtIA Newt’s latest ad is a floating cross away from saying “Huckabee for President.” @HotlineReid Christine O’Donnell asked a bunch of tea party groups to meet with her in Iowa. 15 said no #HotlineSort @IowaGOPer If you look up Rick Perry in a political thesaurus you get Tim Pawlenty All Perry has been able to do in this race is occupy T-Paws old slot

The Schedule: 10:00am ET – Sioux City, IA: Holding media avail before town hall at the Stoney Creek Inn (300 3rd Street, Sioux City, IA) 10:30am ET – Sioux City, IA. Will host a “Faith, Family and Freedom” Town Hall at the Stoney Creek Inn (300 3rd Street, Sioux City, IA) 1:30pm ET – Le Mars, IA: Hosts a “Faith, Family, and Freedom” town hall at 4 Brother’s Restaurant (1430 Two Rivers Boulevard, Le Mars, IA) 6:30pm ET – Sanborn, IA: Will be featured guest at the Sanborn Winter Gala at Jay’s Restaurant and Lounge (120 West 7th Street, Sanborn, IA) 8:30pm ET – Sioux Center, IA: “Faith, Family and Freedom” rally at the Dordt College Campus Center (498 4th Avenue NE, Sioux City, IA) NOTE: Holding media avail after this rally at 9:30pm ET

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