COMMENTS: Eyes on Iowa

On the campaign trail in Iowa, the Democratic race "is a toss up," CBS' Harry Smith told us, as polls show that female support for Hillary Rodham Clinton may be "faltering." NBC's Andrea Mitchell noted that Rodham Clinton is still not an underdog in polls of would-be caucusgoers since Barack Obama's lead is "still within the margin of error." The lines are clearly drawn: by "wide margins" she is seen as experienced and Presidential, he as "more likable and more likely to bring about change." Smith cautioned that Iowa voters are "notorious late deciders and they are fickle too. With 31 days to go and half undecided, the fun has just begun."

On the Republican side ABC's John Donvan (no link) marveled at the transformation of Mike Huckabee's status from spoiler to frontrunner--his scrum of a press corps, his packed meetings, his hour-long timeslots on talkradio--"something really seems to have clicked here for Huckabee." And Donvan called "the ultimate compliment…the big league attacks his ideas are now drawing, finally." Huckabee's major GOP rival in Iowa is Mitt Romney. He "has tried hard to win over conservative Christians," the ones now rallying to Huckabee, the former Baptist preacher, noted NBC's Ron Allen. Allen played a soundbite from a Huckabee ad: "I do not have to wake up every morning wondering what do I need to believe." CBS' Smith played Romney's countersoundbite: "I am not running for pastor in chief. I am running for Commander in Chief."

NBC's Allen speculated that Romney's Mormon faith may be prompting Christian defections. "Many evangelicals claim members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints are not true Christians" because Mormons believe the Old and New Testaments are an incomplete Bible that needed to be supplemented by the Book of Mormon, which was revealed in the 1830s to Joseph Smith. Allen noted that Mormons number 5.5m in the United States, making it the nation's "fourth largest religious group." For Romney "his Mormon faith has long been the theological elephant in the room," ABC's John Berman commented, when the candidate scheduled a major address for Thursday on the role of religion in civil society and the body politic. "It could be a double-edged sword," mused Berman, attracting scrutiny to his minority faith rather than clearing the air.

CBS anchor Katie Couric filed a feature on campaign outreach to young voters, showing Websites, text message efforts and forums held by with MTV. Ostensibly she was making general points about a generation--quoting statistics about the 18-24 age group, 18-29s and 18-35s--but her examples skewed towards efforts on the Democratic side. She illustrated it with clips from the stump by Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Edwards and Barack Obama and an MTV clip from Edwards. The only Republicans to get a soundbite were Richard Nixon in 1972--when the voting age was lowered to 18--and John McCain on Comedy Central's now strikebound The Daily Show. Couric implicitly admitted her image of the Grand Old Party as the Old Fogey Party when she found it newsworthy that "Republicans are making sure they are in the game. Tonight John McCain becomes the first GOP candidate to take part in an MTV/MySpace forum."


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