GOP Voters Undecided Heading Into Iowa Caucuses

With just about two weeks to go before the Iowa caucuses, polls show a majority of likely caucus-goers still have an open mind about which Republican candidate to support for president. What information will they use to make up their mind, and how will they reach a final decision?

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In two weeks, Iowa Republicans will begin the process of picking a presidential nominee, but polls show many voters in the state are still weighing who they like against who can win. NPR's Pam Fessler has more.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Around Iowa, you can find voters like Penny Wade. Her sweatshirt says Rick Santorum 2012 in big, bold letters. Her support for the former Pennsylvania senator is unwavering.

PENNY WADE: Rick's the one. I would never consider anybody else.

FESSLER: But you're far more likely to run into voters like Wayne Dwyer. He sat with Penny Wade and about 40 other people this weekend at a Pizza Ranch restaurant in Carroll, Iowa, waiting to hear Santorum speak.

WAYNE DWYER: I have not made a decision, so that's what - I'm still looking. I mean, I probably won't know until the 3rd of January, but I'm here to find out information.

FESSLER: And to look Santorum in the eye. Is he sincere about his commitment to strong family values?

DWYER: If I can believe that they believe what they're telling me, then that will probably affect how I vote.

FESSLER: Across the state, many voters say their minds are still open. The Des Moines Register's latest Iowa poll found out more than 70 percent of likely caucus-goers were either undecided or had a first choice, but could still be persuaded to vote for someone else.

STEVE SCHEFFLER: It's much more fluid at this point in time than I've ever seen before.

FESSLER: Steve Scheffler is president of the conservative Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition. He, too, has yet to make up his mind, although he knows one thing: He doesn't want former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney to win because he's too liberal. Scheffler thinks that conservatives have several good options: Santorum, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann and Texas Governor Rick Perry. And even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, despite his past marital problems, is attractive to many conservatives.

SCHEFFLER: To some degree, a lot of them are looking for: Which one of these candidates that falls in that category can actually defeat Barack Obama?

FESSLER: Which is why things appear to be so much up in the air. Although pollster Ann Selzer, who conducts the Iowa poll, says things aren't all that different than they've been in the past. She says four years ago, just as many caucus-goers were undecided this late in the game. That's how the Iowa caucuses were meant to be.

ANN SELZER: It's just the way this culture works. We don't have to decide. There's a lot of things happening. There's a lot of intensity, and it's unlike any other place. So, there is no advantage to locking in early, especially when things could change very close to the end.

FESSLER: And she says it often does. Someone who's up in the polls one week can be way down the next, which is why the candidates are so furiously going after all those up-in-the-air votes.

REPRESENTATIVE MICHELE BACHMANN: Merry Christmas. How are you? Merry Christmas.

FESSLER: That's Michele Bachmann greeting a handful of voters in what's called the meeting-and-eating room in another Pizza Ranch restaurant in Rockwell City.

BACHMANN: Hi, Sherry. Good to see you, too.

FESSLER: Bachmann is on an ambitious 99-county bus trip across the state, trying to generate last-minute momentum for her campaign. Supporter Gene Juvette asks her to autograph the top of his bald head, and she gladly complies.

BACHMANN: Yeah, the headline is going to be Bachmann is ahead.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FESSLER: Although, according to the polls, she's far from it. That's a concern from one of her biggest fans. Sharon Layman says she likes everything Bachmann says and thinks the congresswoman best represents her Tea Party values. But Layman admits she still isn't sure she'll vote for her on caucus night.

SHARON LAYMAN: I'm looking for her to get more support, because you don't want to follow somebody that's not going to make it, either.

FESSLER: One of many factors that will be going through all those Iowa voters' minds as they make their final decisions over the next two weeks. Pam Fessler, NPR News, Des Moines.

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