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Et Tu, Iowa?

[Guest post by Ed Kilgore]

Until yesterday, all the recent public opinion surveys of the Republican presidential campaign showing a shocking collapse of support for Rick Perry and an equally surprising surge for Herman Cain have lacked one key data point: Iowa, where the “invisible primary” will turn into actual voting in January or even earlier. September came and went with no public polling in the First-in-the-Nation Caucus state.

Now both NBC/Marist and PPP have polls out on likely Iowa caucus-goers, and they are thinking much like Republicans everywhere. NBC/Marist has Romney first at 23 percent, followed by Cain at 20 percent, Paul at 11 percent, and then Perry and Bachmann tied for fourth at 10 percent. PPP has Cain actually leading at 30 percent, with Romney at 22 percent, Paul at 10 percent, Perry at 9 percent, and Bachmann and Gingrich just behind the Texan at 8 percent.

The three previous polls taken after Perry joined the race showed him leading the field in Iowa while Cain languished back in the pack with support in the mid-single-digits. 

PPP’s crosstabs show the depth of Perry’s Iowa troubles, which—far from being a reflection of lukewarm reactions to his debate performances—show active antipathy to the former front-runner among GOP activists. Perry is the only major candidate other than Ron Paul with net negative approval ratings in Iowa: 38/41, as compared to 51/36 for Romney and 63/17 for Cain.  

Interestingly enough, the polling trends in Iowa cut directly against perceptions of organizational strength. Romney has given the state a wide berth in order to avoid the kind of expectations that screwed up his 2008 campaign once Mike Huckabee upset him in Iowa. Cain has had perhaps the weakest Iowa organization of any significant candidate, having lost several top staff because he refused to spend much time in the state. Perry, meanwhile, has quickly put together the largest Iowa campaign staff of any candidate (much of it taken over from Tim Pawlenty’s organization-rich, support-poor campaign). And the candidate who’s gotten a lot of insider buzz for pursuing a Huckabee-style tortoise-versus-hare grassroots-heavy campaign, Rick Santorum, remains mired in seventh place in both the PPP and NBC-Marist surveys. (One-time Iowa leader Michele Bachmann seems to be struggling with both support and the resources to deliver it to the caucuses).

The stragglers can only hope the caucuses don’t get moved up into December, as some fear will happen. But for now, Iowa is just another place where Perry has crashed, Cain has soared, and Mitt Romney looks better just by standing still.