GOP Front-Runners Pass Iowa By

While Herman Cain was wrapping up a rough week in Washington, five of his fellow GOP presidential contenders were in Iowa Friday night for the state GOP's Ronald Reagan Dinner. Cain and Mitt Romney skipped the Iowa event, and in fact, they've spent little time courting Iowa voters, though that hasn't hurt their standing in the polls. Host Scott Simon talks local politics with Kathie Obradovich, political columnist for the Des Moines Register.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

While Herman Cain was wrapping up his week in Washington D.C., five of his fellow Republican presidential contenders were in Iowa last night for the GOP's Ronald Reagan dinner. Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum spoke at the annual fundraiser, but Mr. Cain and Mitt Romney did not attend the Iowa event. In fact, compared to the current crop of Republican presidential candidates, Cain and Romney have spent little time in Iowa.

That hasn't hurt their standing in the polls. Of course, Iowa has the all-important first-in-the-nation caucus. Here with the view from Iowa is Kathie Obradovich. She's a political columnist for the Des Moines Register, and joins us from Des Moines. Thanks so much for being with us.

KATHIE OBRADOVICH DES MOINES REGISTER: Thanks Scott, it's great to be here.

SIMON: And let's accentuate the positive first. Why are Herman Cain and Mitt Romney polling so well in the state so far?

REGISTER: Well, Cain and Romney are at the top of the Des Moine Register's poll for different reasons. Romney campaigned in Iowa pretty extensively four years ago and he's held onto a really loyal core of supporters, and his numbers in the Register poll have changed very little since our first caucus poll which was back in June. Now, Cain is another story. He's shot up 13 points since June, and even though he hasn't visited the state very much since the straw poll in August, he has generated a lot of buzz from debates.

He has, you know, been high in the national polls, and so he's shown some viability. A lot of people in Iowa met him early in the year and late last year when he visited the state. Now, the poll was taken before the current harassment issues, so that was taken October 23rd through 26th, so that is not reflected. And it's also I would say a sign that other candidates who have risen to the top of the pack, Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, haven't worn very well.

But Scott, you should know that performance in polls, especially caucus polls, are really not necessarily the same thing as doing well on caucus night.

SIMON: Is there any indication in the polling data if Mr. Cain's supporters are rocked by the charges of sexual harassment against him?

REGISTER: No. The Register has done a series of interviews though with Cain supporters since the allegations, nothing scientific. But a lot of these folks right now are still very loyal. They don't see a smoking gun in the allegations yet, and so they're giving Cain the benefit of the doubt. But what I'm reading into these interviews is that people aren't saying that these allegations don't matter if they're true, but what they are saying is that so far they don't see rock solid evidence that he did anything wrong and until they do, they're going to stick by Mr. Cain.

SIMON: Who stood out at the Ronald Reagan dinner?

KATHIE OBRADOVICH: I would say that Newt Gingrich absolutely stood out, followed by Rick Santorum. Newt Gingrich had a lot of audience reaction, and the audience had been mostly sitting on its hands through into Santorum's speech. Santorum finally had to give them permission to interrupt him with applause and people finally did after that.

But Gingrich I think really impressed them first of all by starting and going through and complimenting each one of his rivals who was in the room; people thought that was pretty classy. And he also just I think has worn very well as somebody that has ideas. He's done also well on the debates, and so he definitely got a very warm welcome.

SIMON: Kathie, how would you characterize a lot of Republican voters in Iowa these days, as opposed to 2008?

OBRADOVICH: Well, first of all, they're very uncommitted, as opposed to 2008. They're undecided. The Iowa poll had seven out of 10 who could still change their mind on a candidate. And also think that they are probably a little bit more concerned about having a candidate who is checking the ideological boxes. It's not just a matter of electability. They feel like Barack Obama is probably the weakest president as far as vulnerability is concerned since Jimmy Carter.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

OBRADOVICH: So they are pushing for maybe a little bit more in their candidates, as far as them being absolutely sort of solid on the issues that people care about.

SIMON: Kathie Obradovich, political columnist for the Des Moines Register. Thanks so much.

OBRADOVICH: Thank you.

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