Two weeks to the day before the Iowa caucuses, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich are locked in a head-to-head battle for front-runner status in the Republican presidential primary.
According to fresh numbers from an ABC News-Washington Post poll, Romney and Gingrich are tied nationally, each with 30 percent support, followed by Texas Rep. Ron Paul at 15 percent and all of the other candidates in single digit territory.
According to ABC News pollster Gary Langer, "Gingrich leads Romney by a 14-point margin - 36 percent to 22 percent - among 'very conservatives.'" However, "Gingrich has his own vulnerability: Republicans by an 11-point margin, 44-33 percent, have an unfavorable impression of his work as a political consultant after he left elective office, with nearly a quarter undecided." http://abcn.ws/rPN9Jh
But there's one, big lingering question these new numbers raise: If Newt is falling, why isn't Romney rising?
Romney is seen as the most electable candidate against Obama and he is seen as the most trusted candidate to handle the economy and even social issues like abortion.
But, his health care record as governor of Massachusetts is still a huge liability for him among Republicans, especially among those who say they are very conservative.
Thirty-six percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents view Romney's record on health care in Massachusetts as a "major reason" to oppose him for the nomination. Among very conservatives, that number jumps to 55 percent.
Overall, Romney has the pieces in place, but voters lack passion for him. Sixty-three percent of those who say they are voting for Romney say there's a chance they could change their mind while 67 percent of Gingrich voters say they could change their mind too.
Other highlights from the poll, courtesy of Gary Langer:
-Both Romney and Gingrich suffer from tepid ratings for saying what they really believe; just 51 and 52 percent.
-Majorities believe both Romney and Gingrich have the personality and temperament to serve effectively as president (67 and 61 percent, respectively) and think they'd pursue policies most Americans would find acceptable (71 percent for Romney, 66 percent for Gingrich).
-Gingrich scores as best suited to serve as commander-in-chief of the military, selected by 35 percent, compared with 17 percent for Romney.
-Thirty-eight percent see Romney as best able to beat Obama; 28 percent pick Gingrich on this attribute.
Another bit of good news for Romney, almost 40 percent of Newt voters pick the former Massachusetts governor as their second choice for president:
Romney: 39 percent
Paul: 15 percent
Perry: 15 percent
Bachmann: 13 percent
Santorum: 5 percent
Huntsman: 1 percent
ABC' John Berman swooped into "Good Morning America" today to talk about the new ABC New poll and to round up Monday's action on the campaign trail. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/sI0BjW
IS ROMNEY THE 'RED WAGON' ON CHRISTMAS MORNING? Former political strategist Matt Dowd compared Romney to children seeing a red wagon on Christmas morning - "reliable" but not exciting. "When they walk down and they see a red wagon and are like 'Well that's boring, I'm going to go open that fancy gift over there.' And they open it up and it breaks. And they open up another one and it breaks and…they keep looking at the red wagon. Mitt Romney is like the red wagon that they know is reliable but they don't feel happy about it. In the end they are going to have to make that choice and that choice is coming up," Dowd, an ABC News consultant, told George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America" today. If voters think Romney could beat Obama, they are more likely to back him, "because they would just as soon dislike Obama more than they would like their nominee," Dowd said. http://abcn.ws/t3INLh
YOU TUBE RELEASES MOST VIEWED POLITICAL VIDEOS OF 2011. ABC's John Berman notes that according to YouTube, the most viewed political video of the year was an impassioned plea for gay marriage in Iowa. http://bit.ly/s0dPTy Also interesting, Rick Perry has two ads on the list - mostly because of the controversy stirred up. Here are the top 10 most-viewed political videos of 2011 from the YouTube News and Politics category:
1. Zach Wahls speaks about family 2. President Obama at the 2011 White House Correspondents' Dinner 3. Strong [Rick Perry ad] 4. President Obama on death of Osama bin Laden 5. Brother, can you spare a trillion? Government gone wild! 6. Seth Meyers remarks at the 2011 White House Correspondents' Dinner 7. Rick Perry - Proven Leadership 8. Jon Stewart Goes Head-to-Head Bill O'Reilly 9. Now is the time for action! [Herman Cain ad] 10. President Barack Obama's First Ad of 2012 [NRSC Ad]
RICK PERRY SITS DOWN WITH TERRY MORAN. "Nightline" anchor Terry Moran was granted exclusive access on the campaign trail for a sit-down interview with Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and to ride along on the sixth day of Perry's 14-city bus tour, with stops in Manchester and Elkader, Iowa. During the interview, Perry talked about "the den of thieves" between Washington and Wall Street and his personal journey with faith, among other topics. Tune into "Nightline" tonight for the full interview. Here are two highlights:
ON CORRUPTION: "[Newt's] the guy that was the, the grand- the granddaddy of, of earmarks," Perry said. "This guy who understand the interworkings of Washington, D.C. and he worked for Fanny May, Freddie Mac. Part of the problem-and that's my point - is that Mitt's a part of Wall Street. His address may not have been on Wall Street, but Bain Capital is a Wall Street type of a business. Those individuals have been at the epicenter of this meltdown of America's economy.
ON FAITH: The son of Ray Perry, a tailgunner for World War II who flew missions over embattled Europe, Rick Perry followed in his father's military footsteps. He became a pilot for the United States Air Force, and was honorably discharged in 1977. But it was when he moved back home that he said he went through a "process" of re-discovering his Christian faith. "I had pushed God out of my life, but he has never left me," Perry said. "There was a hole in my heart, and I wasn't happy, and I wouldn't be happy until I found what fit that hole in my heart. And that was God."
ROMNEY'S CLOSING ARGUMENT. Mitt Romney previews the closing argument he will make to GOP primary voters tonight in New Hampshire in an Op-Ed this morning in USA Today: "In less than a year, the American people will go to the polls and choose a new president. A matter of great moment is at stake in this election. The question we will decide is this: Will the United States be an Entitlement Society or an Opportunity Society?" Romney writes. "In an Entitlement Society, government provides every citizen the same or similar rewards, regardless of education, effort and willingness to innovate, pioneer or take risk. In an Opportunity Society, free people living under a limited government choose whether or not to pursue education, engage in hard work, and pursue the passion of their ideas and dreams. If they succeed, they merit the rewards they are able to enjoy. Over the past three years, Barack Obama has been replacing our merit-based society with an Entitlement Society." http://usat.ly/tw0kAP
-ABC's Emily Friedman reports that in Arizona, State House Speaker Andy Tobin will deliver Romney's paperwork to get on the ballot there. Also, Virginia Lieutenant Governor and Romney for President Virginia State Chair Bill Bolling will file Romney's petition papers to appear on the Virginia ballot.
ON THE HILL: HOUSE TO REJECT SENATE TAX CUT EXTENSION. "The House of Representatives is poised to reject a Senate-passed two-month extension of a year-end economic package, preferring instead to hold out for a year-long extension and to challenge Congressional Democrats in yet another political showdown over a popular tax break for the middle class," ABC's John R. Parkinson reports. "Following a closed-door conference meeting with his rank and file membership Monday evening, House Speaker John Boehner told reporters that the GOP wants to 'solve this problem now' because 'it's time to just do the right thing for the American people.' 'Our members believe that we passed a reasonable, responsible bill that would extend the payroll tax credit for a year,' Boehner, R-Ohio, said. 'Our members do not want to just punt and do a two-month short-term fix where we have to come back and do this again. We're here, we're willing to work, we will appoint conferees and we hope the Senate will appoint conferees because we're willing to get the work done now and do it the right way.'" http://abcn.ws/uBvmC0
RON PAUL 'PANIC' IN IOWA. " The alarms are sounding in Iowa," Politico's Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns write. "Conservatives and Republican elites in the state are divided over who to support for the GOP nomination, but they almost uniformly express concern over the prospect that Ron Paul and his army of activist supporters may capture the state's 2012 nominating contest - an outcome many fear would do irreparable harm to the future role of the first-in-the-nation caucuses. In spin rooms, bar rooms and online forums, the what-to-do-about-Paul conversation has become pervasive as polls show him at or near the top here just weeks before the January 3rd vote. Paul poses an existential threat to the state's cherished kick-off status, say these Republicans, because he has little chance to win the GOP nomination and would offer the best evidence yet that the caucuses reward candidates who are unrepresentative of the broader party. "It would make the caucuses mostly irrelevant if not entirely irrelevant," said Becky Beach, a longtime Iowa Republican who helped Presidents Bush 41 and Bush 43 here." http://politi.co/tNiOpQ
More on the Paul-Panic angle from ABC's Matthew Jaffe: "What would happen if Ron Paul won the Iowa caucus? The results would become totally insignificant, we would lose our first-in-the-nation status, and Mitt Romney would waltz to the GOP nomination," Kevin Hall wrote on TheIowaRepublican website last week. "To be blunt," added Tim Hagle, another one of the website's contributors, "Paul's foreign policy and national security positions are considered too extreme for most of the GOP base. Many can overlook them when the focus is on fiscal issues, but Paul got a lot of air time in the last debate …" http://abcn.ws/s97mx2
RICK PERRY GOES NEGATIVE … AGAIN. This one asks voters to consider what "street" candidates work, according to ABC's Arlette Saenz. The 30 second spot categorizes Newt Gingrich as a K Streeter and Mitt Romney as a Wall Street man, while Perry is the man working for Main Street. "Iowa Republicans have a crucial decision. Which street will we choose?" a voice asks in the ad. Titled "Streets," the new ad is the third spot released by the Perry campaign that hits Gingrich and Romney. Previous ads have linked them to the individual mandate and characterized them as political insiders who have contributed to the country's economic turmoil.
GINGRICH TO VOTERS: TELL CANDIDATES TO STOP THE NEGATIVE ADS. ABC's Elicia Dover reports: Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich put out a call to all Iowans tonight to stop the negative campaigning by asking candidates to stop running ads. After saying at an earlier campaign stop in Davenport that the candidates running attack ads were "reprehensible" and "helping Obama," Gingrich told people to approach a candidate they know is running negative ads, ask them to stop and tell them "they ought to be ashamed of themselves." "Next time you see one of the candidates who's running the negative ads, ask them to take it off the air," Gingrich said. "Just say to them, it demeans America." Gingrich said he's felt the "weight" of the negative campaign against him by people "who have nothing positive to offer." Gingrich said the ads have been "saddening but not shocking." http://abcn.ws/vma23p
RICK SANTORUM PITCHES HIS ELECTABILITY. A dispatch from ABC's Shushannah Walshe in Indianola, Iowa: With the caucuses two weeks away, Rick Santorum is pitching himself to the still undecided voters of Iowa after spending months talking them about his social, economic and foreign policies. For Santorum, now it's time to seal the deal and he has to push something else: electability. Trying to build momentum and convince voters that he can not only win here on January 3, but he can also beat Barack Obama next year, Santorum told voters at the Warren County GOP Dinner Monday night not to listen to polls and pundits urging them, "Don't defer. Lead." "Send a message to the man, send a message to the folks in New York and Washington who are trying to tell you who to vote for," Santorum passionately told the crowd. "Lead, lead this country. Give us this clear contrast that Ronald Reagan gave us in 1980 against Jimmy Carter, don't give us a bowl of mush." http://abcn.ws/vzQD6N
-The Christian conservative organization The Family Leader will announce a decision about endorsing a candidate in Urbandale, Iowa this morning.
- Newt Gingrich will hold meet and greets in Mount Pleasant and Oskaloosa, IA. He will also tour Al Jon Company in Ottumwa, where he will meet with employees and hold a small business roundtable. Later in the evening, Gingrich is expected to make a last stop in Knoxville.
- Mitt Romney will hold a town hall meeting in Bedford, NH. Ann Romney, will also be in New Hampshire, where she will attend a coffee and conversation event with State Representative Marilinda Garcia in Salem.
- Rick Perry will be joined by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal on his bus tour through Iowa, with stops in Maquoketa, DeWitt, Clinton and Davenport.
- Michele Bachmann will also continue her own bus tour of Iowa's 99 counties, with stops in Waterloo, Independence, Fayette, Postville, Strawberry Point, Manchester, Dubuque, Maquoketa, DeWitt and Bettendorf.
- Rick Santorum will host "Faith, Family and Freedom" town halls in Pella and Mount Pleasant, Iowa. Later, he will participate in the Genesis Health Care Forum in Davenport and will attend a house party in Bettendorf to benefit John Archer's congressional campaign.
- Ron Paul will make several campaign stops in Manchester, Plaistow, and Exeter, N.H.
- Jon Huntsman will hold a meet and greet and town hall in Nashua, NH followed by an evening town hall in Stratham.
-ABC's Joanna Suarez
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