The Des Moines Register released its poll of how Republicans in Iowa see the GOP candidates running for President.
The top line numbers are:
Herman Cain - 23%
Mitt Romney - 22%
Ron Paul - 12%
Michelle Bachmann - 8%
Newt Gingrich - 7%
Rick Perry - 7% Rick Santorum - 5%
Jon Huntsman - 1%
The surprise to me was not that Herman Cain and Mitt Romney are at the top of the layer cake; it is that Rick Perry's campaign has fallen so far, and so fast.
In the run up to the Straw Poll in Ames, Iowa (which, you remember, was won by Michele Bachmann) Rick Perry announced he would announce, but he was a write-in for the actual tally.
He got 4.3% of the votes cast and those of us who think about these things wondered how well he would have done had he paid the entry fee and had his name on the ballot.
In the two-and-a-half months since Ames, Perry has announced, raised over $17 million, participated in four debates, brought in a new senior staff, and only came in tied with Newt at 7% in this poll for the price of it.
Michele Bachmann has suffered a similar second-stage flameout. After beating Ron Paul in the Straw Poll 29% - 28% she raised $4.1 million for the quarter, lost her two most senior advisors (and two of the smartest people in politics) - Ed Rollins and Ed Goeas - and last week didn't know that most, if not all, of her staff in New Hampshire had quit, even after they press was reporting it.
So, what does this tell us about what is likely to happen in January? A couple of things. First it is very unlikely that the final tally in the caucuses will match these poll results.
Here were the numbers from approximately the same point - October 2007 - in the Iowa process four years ago:
Mitt Romney - 29%
Fred Thompson - 18%
Mike Huckabee - 12%
Rudy Giuliani - 11%
John McCain - 7%
Ron Paul - 4%
And the actual caucus results in January, 2008 were:
Huckabee - 34.4%
Mitt Romney - 25.2%
Fred Thompson - 13.4%
John McCain - 13.0%
Ron Paul - 9.9%
Rudy Giuliani - 3.4%
Mitt Romney has a strong base of support in Iowa which has
not abandoned him in four years. Although they don't get much press, Iowa's moderate wing is loyal and will continue to turn out.
It is in Romney's interest for Perry or Bachmann (or even Newt) to regain some momentum in Iowa on the theory that Cain will lose some and Paul will maintain his 10% - 12% level of support. Why? Because if all of Iowa's conservative caucus-goers line up behind one candidate that will run away with the caucuses.
Four years ago Fred Thompson siphoned support from Huckabee and McCain did the same to Romney. If neither of them had been in the field (and all their votes went to one or the other of the two leaders) Huckabee would have beaten Romney about 48-37. Laying claim to being this close to an outright majority in Iowa would have had a major impact for Huckabee's the long-term performance in the race.
There is no other moderate in the race (Huntsman is not a factor) so Romney will get all those votes but we will wait and see how the conservatives in the Hawkeye State divvy themselves up.
If Romney does come in first in Iowa then, as predicted, romps through New Hampshire it would not surprise me to see him do better than expected in South Carolina and, effectively, wrap up the nomination at the end of January in Florida.
But, we're still two months away from the first Iowan trudging to the first school cafeteria to case the first ballot so don't run down to your bookmaker just yet.