RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
On the Republican side, polls show the race in Iowa is coming down to two men - Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney - who are expected to get more than half the support when GOP caucuses meet tomorrow night. Four other candidates are hoping just to get their support into double digits. One big question tomorrow night will be how many Republicans attend the caucuses and how many independents show up to join them.
Joining us now from Des Moines is NPR news analyst Juan Williams.
Good morning, Juan.
JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning from chilly Des Moines, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Okay. Well, Mike Huckabee there yesterday said he was pleasantly surprised at a new poll from the Des Moines Register showing him, what, six points ahead? A lot of others were apparently surprised at that poll too.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, they sure were. The poll had Mike Huckabee at 32 percent, Mitt Romney at 26, and followed by John McCain at 13, and Ron Paul and Fred Thompson tied at about nine. It was a stunner, Renee, because Romney seemed to have been gaining momentum in recent days. He's been lots of ads, comparing his time as governor of Massachusetts with Huckabee's time as governor of Arkansas and saying that Huckabee raised taxes, was weak on immigration, weak on crime.
Huckabee has said that was dishonest. In fact, he responded the other day with a press conference where he called Romney's attacks really unethical and dishonest and then he said he was not going to run his own ad attacking Romney, but he did play it for reporters, and that lead then the reporters to say, gosh, Huckabee is falling apart because this was a hypocritical act, a bizarre act. David Yepsen, the prominent political writer here in Des Moines, said it was goofy.
So other polls have shown Romney gaining. This one clearly shows Huckabee in the lead. And other thing is to say here, Renee, that a lot of people were surprised that John McCain was third in the poll because John McCain has not spent much time here in Iowa. He's been focused on New Hampshire.
MONTAGNE: Well, you know, that poll showing Huckabee ahead by those points that some observers have taken issue with it, saying they sort of don't believe it. But is it just the people would prefer other results?
WILLIAMS: No, not quite. The reason that people say they don't believe it, Renee, is that the poll included so many independents. There were even Democrats. And the Democrats were counted just because they say they're going to vote on the Republican side of the caucuses on Thursday night. So we haven't seen that much participation by independents, Democrats, on the Republican caucus. Among Republicans alone, Romney is actually ahead.
And I should say here that 46 percent of the people in the polls said that they were open to changing their minds. Forty percent said they would be first-time participants. Again, those are really high numbers, and it's why a lot of the political insiders think that maybe the poll is not to be trusted.
MONTAGNE: Well, that also gets to Rudy Giuliani. Do people believe that he - a guy who's still leading the national polls among Republicans - could fall as low as sixth in Iowa?
WILLIAMS: Well, yeah. The answer there, Renee, is yes because he's not been here much. And unlike McCain, there's been no show of any kind of push among the caucus-goers for Rudy Giuliani. He's - Giuliani's been in New Hampshire, he's been in Florida, states where he's been able to raise some money. A lot of people are writing him off here and I must say in all the states that will go to the polls in some fashion or form in January.
So Giuliani is waiting until Florida on January 29th. But that may be, you know, it may be a long wait because there's going to be momentum for the likes of Huckabee, Romney, et cetera, going into Florida. And it leaves Giuliani oddly really waiting to go to New York on February 5th.
MONTAGNE: Well, this Des Moines Register poll also had candidate Ron Paul ahead of Giuliani in Iowa, but Ron Paul has been left out of a Fox News forum on Sunday.
WILLIAMS: Yeah, that's right. You know, I do some commentary for Fox, but I don't have any inside scoop there, other than to say that Fox says that basically they're going to go with no Ron Paul, no Duncan Hunter. They're going to limit it to Giuliani, Huckabee, McCain, Romney and Thompson. And their standard is you've got to be double digits in the polls.
Now, ABC is also having some sort of debate forums next week going up towards New Hampshire. And their standard is you got to finish one through four in Iowa or have a five percent rating in New Hampshire or nationally. And again, that would knock them out.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Juan Williams in Des Moines. Thanks for joining us. And you are listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.
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