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The final push

James Q. Lynch, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

CEDAR RAPIDS – It’s hard to find a straight Republican in Iowa. It seems they’re all leaning.

With a week to go before Iowa’s first-in-the-nation precinct caucuses, few Republicans have landed solidly on one candidate. A recent Iowa State University/Gazette/KCRG-TV9 poll of likely caucusgoers found the race “remarkably fluid” with 37.8 percent of respondents indicating they were still trying to decide. Another 34.1 percent were only leaning toward one candidate, and only 28.1 percent indicated that they had definitely decided who they would support.

Roseann Stivers of Anamosa is typical of many Republicans and Republican-leaning independents attending candidate events in the run-up to Iowa’s caucuses.

Stivers was leaning but wasn’t 100 percent committed to Michele Bachmann, Stivers said when the Minnesota congresswoman visited the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa.

“I guess I’ll know when I’m there,” Stivers said, suggesting her decision-making process could continue right up to 7 p.m. Jan. 3, when 1,774 GOP caucuses convene.

As the Buchanan County co-chairman for Bachmann, the Rev. William Vance would like people to decide before then.

“A lot of them are waiting to decide right up until the end — even at the caucuses,” said the pastor for Bridgewater Bible Fellowship in Hazleton.

“That’s business as usual,” said Steve Armstrong, Linn County GOP chairman, about the high percentage of undecided.

Thirteen candidate debates have provided Republicans an opportunity to compare and contrast the candidates, but Armstrong believes that’s made it tougher to choose between them.

“They’re all quite likable, and that makes the decision more difficult,” he said.

Many of those showing up at candidate events in recent days have narrowed the field to two or three candidates. For others, the list remains long.

“I know who I won’t support,” Kathy Bohman of Elkader said as she waited for Texas Gov. Rick Perry last week, but she has five candidates still under consideration.

The campaign has been something of a roller-coaster with five candidates leading the pack at one time or another. Bachmann rocked the field when she eked out a win over Ron Paul in mid-August’s straw poll, but Perry jumped into the race and surged to the front before stumbling in debates. Herman Cain then moved into the top spot in polls before his past caught up to him, and he was replaced by Newt Gingrich and most recently Paul.

“It’s hard to pick one because they all are going up and down,” said Cindy Wilhelm of Manchester. “People have looked at several candidates, but (candidates) are having a hard time keeping momentum.”

Gabe Ward of Center Junction is an exception. He’s backing Bachmann, a decision he made after hearing her speak in 2010.

“I figured then that if she ever ran, that’s where I would end up,” Ward said, citing her pro-life position and opposition to same-sex marriage as reasons for his decision.

The economy may be uppermost in voters’ minds, but they frequently mention a desire for a nominee who will uphold constitutional principles, protect gun rights and demonstrate leadership based on Christian values.

That’s why Jim Smith of Elgin is “real close” to backing Perry.

“I would have voted for Herman Cain,” the retiree from Florida said, but now that the Georgia businessman has suspended his campaign, Smith is leaning toward Perry.

“He’s conservative, he’ll secure the border, reduce big government and get us back to the Constitution,” Smith said as he left the appearance with a Perry yard sign.

Vance suspects there are some wolves in sheep’s clothing among the candidates, though.

“They all say they are conservative,” he said. “Some of them are using that mantra to get votes in Iowa, but when they leave here, they will be talking differently.”

Despite the difficulty deciding who to caucus for, potential caucusgoers have no difficulty expressing their motivation: Barack Obama.

Waiting for Gingrich to arrive at a rally at Level 10 Apparel in Hiawatha, employee Ward Hamblin said he’s been a fan of the former speaker since 1991. “But I’m for any Republican who can beat Obama,” he said.

That leaves many Iowa Republicans in a quandary: Caucus for the candidate they like best, or the one with the best chance of beating Obama?

For Laura Rechkemmer of Oelwein, who is participating in the caucuses for the first time, it’s a head-or-heart choice. She believes Gingrich can get the job done as president but doesn’t like his lifestyle choices. She has confidence in Mitt Romney’s competence but believes he has wavered on social issues.

“There’s not a candidate who, across-the-board, gets everything right that conservatives are looking for,” Rechkemmer said after chatting with Bachmann at Victories Restaurant in Fayette.


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