19 Days Out: Good Morning Iowa

Good morning from Des Moines. We are 19 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 that this takes much of its inspiration from. We love all the suggestions and tips we have received over the past few days. Keep them coming.

All of the candidates are in the state today to participate in this evening's Fox News Debate in Sioux City…the last one before the caucuses. Rick Santorum will also hold town halls in Rockwell City, Sac City, and Holstein. Newt Gingrich is doing a retail event in Fort Dodge.

Weather: It is windy and in the 30s this morning in Des Moines, but will get sunny as you hit the road to Sioux City. The weather is the same in Sioux City today: windy this morning and sunny later, but being Northwest Iowa it's colder…it will be in the 20s today and get down to 23 by the time the debate starts. Bundle up!  

Make sure to check out today's Note from Michael Falcone (@michaelpfalcone) and Amy Walter (@amyewalter): The Note: The Road Less Traveled: Newt's Positive Play http://abcn.ws/rUjvgp

Watch John Berman's (@johnsberman) GMA piece on what the candidates need to do at tonight's Fox News debate:    http://abcn.ws/ufI58v

This is the front page Des Moines residents are waking up to today: http://bit.ly/dpztgW

What's In The Register?

Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs)  has a must-read on what's at stake for every candidate at this evening's debate. Read it before you walk into the debate hall tonight: http://dmreg.co/v98qpr

It's On: Kathie Obradovich (@KObradovich) reports on the negative robo-calls, web ads, and mailers popping up all over in her column:  I received a robo-call at home on Tuesday night that lacked an identifying disclosure. The call portrayed an excruciatingly cutesy conversation between a child and his father, attacking Newt Gingrich. The kid refers to a "green newt" and a Grinch. The dad calls Gingrich a "slippery salamander" and refers the former speaker's 2008 ad with Nancy Pelosi on climate change. A Republican friend tells me she's also received a Gingrich attack mailer that lacked a disclosure…Mitt Romney released a Web ad that features the same ad of Newt and Nancy. The tag line: "With friends like Newt, who needs the Left?" Ron Paul and Rick Perry are both scorching the airwaves with attacks on Gingrich and Romney. A group of pastors who have endorsed Michele Bachmann sent their own release, calling Gingrich "very fine, empty suit with a broken zipper," and "glib, wordy cheater." In this sacred season, nothing says "Christian charity" like a mean-spirited, personal political attack…The final debate of the caucus season is often a contest for Mr. or Ms. Congeniality. The candidates grit their teeth and maintain a determined civility rather than singe their own eyebrows with an attack. Tonight's 8 o'clock Fox News debate in Sioux City may be different. It's a "go big or go home" moment for many of the candidates, and there's still time to recover from any blowback. Read the entire column here: http://dmreg.co/sCNgIn

Timmy Talks:   Albrecht's (@TimAlbrechtIA) insight and wisdom for the day…with a special tip for the candidates.

The stars have aligned for the vitally important Sioux City debate, held in the heart of Republican-rich Northwest Iowa. Expect a raucous crowd with a decidedly pro-Paul edge. College students have soaked up a number of tickets, and they'll defy debate rules to give their man an edge. If Ron Paul lands a glove on somebody, the crowd will go wild and that will be on constant cable loop. That imagery comes at a time when people are starting to wake up to the fact that Ron Paul is very real as a candidate.

I will also watch closely for an Ida Grove shout from the candidates. A town just an hour down the road from Sioux City that happens to be my hometown. Ha.

Sweater Vest Threat Level: Black

GMI note: Sen. Santorum and Albrecht's sweater vest threat levels have been the same for two days straight: navy, then beige. Will they make it a third day? Stay tuned.

What Else Is In The Register?

Santorum: The Register's William Petroski (@WilliamPetroski) reports that Santorum wants to increase the research and development tax credit and commented on continuing on after Iowa: The federal tax credit for research and development should be expanded from 14 percent to 20 percent and made a permanent provision in the tax code…The Pennsylvania Republican presidential candidate spoke of his support for the expanded tax credit while meeting with Pioneer employees at the company's Johnston research facilities…This is a simple plan. We think it is a very strong pro-growth plan." the candidate said…"If everybody is within a stone's throw of everybody else, it is hard to say that someone is a real winner and a loser at that point, particularly someone like me," he said. There is a possibility the caucus results could leave a "muddled mess" without clear frontunners and that Iowa "might not decide much of anything," he added.

This is the front page Sioux City  residents are waking up to today: http://bit.ly/hxls4

What's in the Sioux City Journal on debate day?

Bret Hayworth (@SCJBretH) has the front page must-read story on what to expect at tonight's final debate before the caucuses: When seven Republican candidates for president take the stage at the Sioux City Convention Center, expect more barbs directed at former House Speaker and frontrunner Newt Gingrich. You can also expect to see at least one candidate make a significant mistake, perhaps making a $10,000 bet or stumbling over talking points. But don't expect to learn much more about where the candidates stand on the issues. "What I'm looking for is to see what the environment is around Newt Gingrich - how are the others going to continue their attack on him and is he going to be as confident as he was in the Saturday (Des Moines) debate," said Iowa State University political science professor Steffen Schmidt. Read all the analysis here: http://bit.ly/sg5rm5 Endorsement Watch:

Gingrich: The former speaker picks up an endorsement from former Sioux City congressman Fred Grandy: "Quite honestly, he is the only guy that I see who is offering real leadership positions on these critical issues, whether you're talking about foreign policy, or economic policy or cultural policy," Grandy (said)…Grandy, an outspoken critic of radical Islam in the Middle East, said Gingrich is the only presidential candidate who "really understands that the radical elements that are now rising to power in Egypt, and Tunisia and Libya are no better or perhaps worse than the elements that we are battling in Iran." …Grandy said he decided to publicly back Gingrich after other current and former House members started "trashing" him. Among other things, Gingrich's critics have accused him of having too big of an ego and an abrasive personality, traits that got in the way of his effectively leading the House in the 1990s. "It seems to me he is the target of the week, not so much for the national press, which is disposed to not like him, but for fellow Republicans that somehow think he is the Darth Vader of the Republican Party," Grandy said. "He's closer to Obi-Wan Kenobi as far as I'm concerned."…Grandy, who gained fame as a star on the 1970s sitcom, "The Love Boat." http://bit.ly/vd1g1M

Bachmann said Wednesday that she is America's best hope for breaking the stranglehold that "crony capitalism" has on Washington. The Minnesota congresswoman said President Obama and "some of our candidates" are compromised with crony capitalism but that is something she "will not stand for" in a Bachmann administration. "That is the problem with politicians that they're paying off their friends with special favors," Bachmann told an afternoon news conference where she gained the endorsement of state Sen. Merlin Bartz, R-Grafton. "That's something I'll do away with as president of the United States."…Bachmann, who plans to kick off an ambitious 99-county tour on Friday, said her candidacy is building momentum as the Jan. 3 first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses approach. "We're moving up," she said. "We're very excited about where we are." http://bit.ly/spiCx4

Paul: The Cedar Rapids Gazette Reports the campaign announced doctors in Iowa backing Paul: The Ron Paul 2012 Presidential campaign announced today (Dec. 14) new members of its "Doctors for Ron Paul" nationwide coalition, this time highlighting medical professionals from the first-in-nation voting state of Iowa. Doctors are excited about Dr. Paul's candidacy in large part due to his firm stance of repealing Obamacare, restoring health freedom, and curtailing government intervention in healthcare.  Seeking to restore the doctor-patient relationship as an alternative to the present patient-bureaucrat-doctor hindrance to healthcare delivery, Hawkeye State doctors have stepped forward with the following endorsements. http://bit.ly/unpaBr

Back To The Journal:  

Hayworth (@SCJBretH) has some Sioux City food tips for visiting journos! http://bit.ly/uPNlwj

Radio Iowa's O. Kay Henderson (@okayhenderson) reports on Kathie Obradovich's Conversations with the Candidates where she asks the Minnesota Congresswoman what the hardest thing about the campaign:  It's the fact that we work nearly every day about 18 hours a day and that's a relentless pace to keep up, but I defend the process…Someone said it's like having the snot beat out of you every day and honestly, I defend that. It's good because we are vying to be the next leader of the free world. Being president of the United States is a tough job. I'm up for it." http://bit.ly/ve9DXA

This is the front page Cedar Rapids residents are waking up to today: http://bit.ly/uq7xli

What's else is in the Gazette?

James Q. Lynch looks at the packed schedules the candidates will in the last weeks before the caucuses: http://bit.ly/uTmU6h

Air Wars:

Gingrich: ABC's John Berman (@johnsberman)  reports on a new Gingrich TV ad that will hit the airwaves here: "I believe bold ideas and new solutions will unleash America's creative spirit.  When I was Speaker, our budget was balanced and 11 million jobs were created.  We can do it again and rebuild the America we love.  I'm Newt Gingrich and I approve this message."  h ttp://youtu.be/iu89otu-T9A

ABC's Matt Jaffe (@matthewbjaffe) has another one of his must-read debate primer's for this evening's Sioux City showdown: http://abcn.ws/tPIHap

Romney: The former Massachusetts governor is using an elite group of volunteers to help win here: He's only set foot in Iowa a handful of times during the primary season, and by all accounts, he's only spending a fraction of the $10 million he invested in the state four years ago, but Mitt Romney has something else going for him: a network of highly-motivated, politically-connected volunteers willing to engage in door-to-door combat for him even as Romney spends more time elsewhere. With only five full time staffers in the state, the Romney campaign is relying on a cadre of invested "super volunteers," whose prominence as elected officials or business professionals allow them to use their talents and influence to help with the campaign's efforts here - free of charge.  Many of these volunteers hold positions in Romney's Iowa campaign organization that might have been filled by paid staff four years ago when Romney invested much more heavily in the state. Back then Romney had a whopping 52 paid employees in Iowa alone. On the day of Romney's sixth trip to the state as a presidential candidate, here's a look at some of the members of his elite Iowa volunteer corps:  http://abcn.ws/sh0Ura

Gingrich: ABC News attended an abortion candidate forum and film premiere last night and this is what we found:   As Newt Gingrich stood before a crowd of hundreds of social conservatives in Des Moines less than three weeks before Iowans gather for the state's first-in-the nation caucuses, the challenge he faces came into stark relief. Gingrich told the crowd on Wednesday night that he and like-minded Republicans were "engaged in a cultural struggle with a secular elite that believes that life is random and has no moral meaning." But outside a historic auditorium in downtown Des Moines where Gingrich promised to support Congressional action to pass a bill that "defines personhood," critics of the former House Speaker placed pamphlets on car windshield that attacked Gingrich as a "a pro-life fraud." The pamphlets, which were authorized and paid for by the group, Iowans for Life, accused Gingrich of campaigning for "pro-partial birth abortion candidates," urging "fellow Republicans to drop the pro-life issue because it was too divisive," and leaving any mention of abortion out of his book," Winning the Future." Gingrich has recently been taking steps to consolidate his support among social conservatives and evangelical Christians. Over the course of the week, he offered his support for two pledges: an anti-gay marriage vow created by the Iowa organization, The Family Leader, and a personhood pledge sponsored by the group, Personhood USA.  http://abcn.ws/uhIp87

Santorum: Shane Vander Hart (@shanevanderhart) , a Santorum supporter and author of the Iowa blog, Caffeinated Thoughts, points out that the former Pennsylvania senator got the loudest and most sustained applause: http://bit.ly/uUczPz

More Santorum: Radio Iowa's O. Kay Henderson (@okayhenderson) points out that Santorum swiped Gingrich in his speech: http://bit.ly/mQtH1G

Mike Huckabee tells GMI-at the premiere of "The Gift of Life" film he co-produced-that he would not endorse any candidate before the Iowa caucuses on January 3, and that he may not back anyone before the primary fight ends. "I don't see it happening in the primary because I want people to look at these candidates and to make the decision based on what their heart and soul told them is right about these folks," Huckabee said, adding he hasn't even made his own choice yet. "I don't want to try and tell somebody 'here's who you ought to vote for.' I'm not sure who I'm going to vote for, I mean honestly. I don't have that settled in my own heart yet," the former Arkansas governor added. "There are some good people, most of these people are my friends, I know them, I've worked with many of them and I know all of them and if you had to tell me tonight to go into the voting booth and vote I would have a hard time myself." http://abcn.ws/ufVYkF

Gingrich: ABC's Michael Falcone (@michaelpfalcone) talks to Iowa evangelical leader, Bob Vander Plaats about Gingrich: Though no one speaks for the entire evangelical community in Iowa, Bob Vander Plaats' voice is one of the loudest and most influential. And, listen closely to what he has to say about Newt Gingrich: "The heart of our Christian faith, which doesn't get talked enough about is forgiveness," Vander Plaats said in an interview with ABC News. "When there's life change, the scripture says the heavens rejoice. Well, if scripture says that, then we probably should rejoice as well." Vander Plaats, the CEO of a well-known Iowa social conservative group called The Family Leader, is searching for a candidate to endorse with less than three weeks to go before the Jan. 3 caucuses. He and his board of directors plan to meet after Thursday night's presidential debate to see if they can coalesce behind a candidate. One thing is clear: his group is looking to throw their weight behind anybody but Mitt Romney. "Is Newt flawed? You bet he's flawed," he said. "But Bob Vander Plaats is flawed as well."  http://abcn.ws/t63zOJ

Bachmann vs. Gingrich: ABC's Elicia Dover (@EliciaDover) reports that Bachmann is accusing Gingrich of buying Tea Party support: "The Tea Party battleground in South Carolina is heating up between the Michele Bachmann campaign and the Newt Gingrich campaign…No Republican since 1980 has gone on to win the Republican Party's nomination without first winning South Carolina, and the candidates know it. Bachmann's South Carolina representative, Wesley Donehue, told the Columbia Free Times last month that while Bachmann is gaining actual Tea Party support, Gingrich is buying his. 'Bachmann is trying to grow an organic base of supporters, and Newt Gingrich is trying to buy off tea party groups,'  Donehue said. 'Newt Gingrich knows that the only way he can get the tea party vote is to buy it.' Bachmann's national spokeswoman, Alice Stewart, told ABC News Wednesday night that Bachmann only has Tea Party members who volunteer, unlike the Gingrich campaign. 'Donehue said he's paying a lot people for their help and support on a campaign, but he wasn't accusing him of doing anything illegal,' Stewart said. Tonight, the Gingrich campaign lashed back at Bachmann… 'We're not sure about the strategy of other campaigns, but we know our campaign and our effort to court Tea Party members to come be part of it is first not to challenge their character,' said R.C. Hammond, spokesman for the Gingrich campaign."  http://abcn.ws/v3tqKc

Ground Wars:

Perry: ABC's Arlette Saenz (@ArletteSaenz) is on the Perry bus tour:  Rick Perry now has one day and three events of his 44 stop bus tour under his belt.  The Texas governor engaged in the typical retail politicking required in Iowa, hosting a town hall in Council Bluffs, walking through the town square in Harlan and holding a meet and greet at Cronk's Café Restaurant and Lounge in Denison.  Perry attempted to sell himself as a "conservative fighter" while also touting his values which he linked to that of Iowans at each of his events.  http://abcn.ws/vWI8u6    Saenz reports Perry concluded the bus tour Wednesday by asking voters to "have my back in Iowa."  The events in Council Bluffs and Denison grew crowds of around 100 people.   http://abcn.ws/tGjeCv  And the Texas Governor has some health tips for reporters: While walking around the town square of Harlan, Perry took a quick coffee break, ordering an apple cider and chai latte, while offering a small health tip to reporters.  The Texas governor says he normally drinks an aged Sumatran blend of coffee with "a little splenda, a little half and half," and will pour a tad bit of honey in his coffee to ward off allergies. http://abcn.ws/uAUNOt

Gingrich: ABC's Elicia Dover (@EliciaDover) also reports that Gingrich will be getting a bus of his own: As Republican presidential candidates Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry ride across the long stretches of corn-filled highways on their bus tours this weekend, Newt Gingrich is leaving the state Iowa and going to Washington, D.C., just a couple of weeks before the state's caucus. Gingrich is currently polling as the winner in Iowa and defended his weekend of no campaigning today in Iowa City, Iowa. "We're here now and tomorrow," Gingrich said. "We'll be back again early next week and we'll be here starting the 27th. We'll have our very own bus to match their buses." http://abcn.ws/tTkKki

Romney: ABC's Emily Friedman (@EmilyABC) reports from Council Bluffs that Ann Romney spoke about her private life with her husband: "Tucked away in a suburb of western Iowa this evening, Ann Romney offered a rare glimpse into the private life she shares with the man who hopes to become the next president, admitting that it's a side many may not hear but is 'always a lot more fun,'" ABC's Emily Friedman notes. "Her husband, Mitt Romney, said Ann, stood by her through her life's challenges, and has proven that he has the 'the character and the integrity to make us proud and to trust him and to know that he is a really, really good person.' As her husband's campaign launches more aggressive attacks on GOP frontrunner Newt Gingrich, Ann Romney focused her remarks on illustrating Romney's family-man persona."  http://abcn.ws/s4ALV1

More Ann: CNN's Peter Hamby (@PeterHambyCNN) also reports that Ann Romney said the campaign is ready for a long primary battle: Ann Romney said Wednesday that her husband's presidential campaign is bracing for a protracted Republican primary fight that could become a race for delegates extending well into the spring. ""We are ready and prepared, for however long, whether it's quick or fast, to get Mitt the nomination," Romney told about 30 Republicans gathered in a supporter's home in Council Bluffs. "I am confident he will get the nomination, and by the way, I am also extremely confident he will beat Barack Obama." http://on.cnn.com/rXqPjp

Santorum: Yesterday in Des Moines, Santorum said he would place his GOP opponents into his administration and tells a very funny campaign trail story: http://abcn.ws/vmfEwp

Paul: ABC's Sarah Parnass takes a look at the "raw milk" controversy Paul is talking about on the campaign trail here: http://abcn.ws/telvcd

Gingrich: AP's Tom Beaumont (@TomBeaumont) reports on the enthusiasm Gingrich is relying on: "Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has little choice but to rely on momentum to carry him to victory in the Iowa caucuses…He has a skeleton campaign organization in a state where successful caucus candidates typically have had well-built machines aimed at turning out supporters. To build a stronger operation with less than three weeks until the leadoff 2012 contest, he has to scramble. The former House speaker is hoping the typical rules don't apply to him, in a campaign that already has been far from typical. 'You're not going to have a successful campaign in the caucuses on organization alone,' said John Stineman, an uncommitted Iowa Republican who ran Steve Forbes' 2000 caucus campaign. 'You have to have some heat. Newt's getting hot at the right time. It's a matter of whether he can sustain the heat.' Getting a winning share of support from caucusgoers in 1,774 precinct-level party meetings across the state on a cold, early January night requires some level of coordination, such as nailing down supporters in each of Iowa's 99 counties."  http://bit.ly/s8E1o1

Even More Gingrich: RealClearPolitics' Scott Conroy (@RealClearScott) reports the campaign's shaky infrastructure shows cracks: Along his path to the top of the 2012 Republican pack, Newt Gingrich has, rather proudly, declined the advice of just about everyone who tried to tell him how he should run his campaign. Whether spending more time in TV studios and at book signings than in the early-voting states or helming a bare-bones operation in which he himself made the key strategic decisions, Gingrich has operated on the belief that the long-held tenets of waging a successful presidential campaign no longer apply. But as the race approaches a new stage, in which poll numbers must be translated into actual voters, Gingrich's makeshift campaign operation is showing signs of vulnerability. While his aides almost universally express confidence that they have the infrastructure in place to harness the grass-roots support that has propelled Gingrich to this point, several of them admit privately that they are in fact trying to keep the ship afloat amid a hurricane of tasks that must be completed within a precariously short timeframe. A visit to Gingrich's Iowa campaign headquarters early last week revealed a largely empty room staffed by just a handful of people, all hurrying to complete essential tasks in a building that had opened for business less than two weeks earlier. http://bit.ly/rDgpKq

And Even More Gingrich: Politico's Jonathan Martin (@jmartpolitico) looks at whether Gingrich is taking Iowa seriously: Newt Gingrich's improbable comeback may fall short if he doesn't win Iowa - and there are signs he's not taking the threat seriously enough. Gingrich is getting pounded on Iowa TV by both a pro- Mitt Romney super PAC and Ron Paul's campaign and is doing little to fight back against ads which take direct aim at him. Less than three weeks before the caucuses, the former speaker is airing a single commercial with little money behind it. And while Gingrich's top rivals here flood the airwaves, three of his lesser challengers - all vying for the same swath of undecided conservative votes - began barnstorming the state in an intensive retail push before the January 3rd vote. Gingrich's response suggests a lack of urgency: on Wednesday he held a wonky seminar on brain science in this liberal college town. He had plans to return to Washington for a book-signing after Thursday's debate in Sioux City, without scheduling any public events in the conservative-heavy northwest corner of the state. http://politi.co/u6qO2a

Who's Tweeting? (h/t Arlette Saenz)

@ jaketapper  Former Iowa Rep. Fred Grandy, R-Iowa, says he will Gopher @NewtGingrich

@HotlineReid Sioux City Journal: "Journalists can be less whiny when well-fed." Truth. #HotlineSort

@TomBeaumont (AP) Gingrich scrambles in Iowa, with hybrid new-traditional tack, hopes momentum trumps pure organizing tinyurl.com/cgrzqtg The Schedule:


8:00am CT - "Faith, Family and Freedom" town hall at Dangie's Diner (125 East High Street, Rockwell City, IA)

11:00am CT - Sac City, IA: "Faith, Family and Freedom" town hall at the Sac City Cattleman's Co. (508 West Main Street, Sac City, IA)

2:30pm CT - Holstein, IA: "Faith, Family and Freedom" town hall at Java Junkies (103 North Main Street, Holstein, IA)


12:00pm CT - Fort Dodge, IA: Meet and greet at the Willow Ridge Golf Course (1788 Madison Avenue, Fort Dodge, IA)

All the Candidates

8:00pmCT- Sioux City, IA: FOX News/Iowa GOP Debate at the Sioux City Convention Center (801 4 th Street, Sioux City, IA)