December 30, 2011 | by Chris Johnson
Romney, Santorum show new strength in Iowa polls

[Editor's Note: The Washington Blade will have this reporter in Des Moines, Iowa, next week monitoring activity on the ground prior to the caucuses as well as their results.]

Two GOP presidential contenders are experiencing new strength in the polls just days before the Iowa caucuses as new concerns emerge about another candidate’s anti-gay connections and past.

Recent polls show former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney slightly ahead of other candidates in Iowa — where on Jan. 3 the GOP will hold the nation’s first contest for who’ll win the Republican nomination — as former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum has also risen to become a major candidate in the contest.

According to a NBC/Marist poll published Friday, Romney is virtually tied for support with Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) among likely Republican caucus-goers in Iowa. The poll revealed that Romney has support from 23 percent of respondents while Paul has support from 21 percent.

MORE IN THE BLADE: ROMNEY EDGES SANTORUM TO WIN IOWA CAUCUS

Meanwhile, Santorum has risen to third place in Iowa while Gingrich has plummeted after enjoying a commanding lead. The former senator has support from 20 percent of respondents, followed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry at 14 percent and Gingrich at 13 percent.

Gingrich, who until recently was the front-runner in the polls, has fallen after his opponents have attacked for his decisions over the course of this more than 30-year-long political career.

Criticism have been based on his admitted martial infidelities and the $1.6 million he received in consulting fees he received from Freddie Mac, a government-sponsored secondary home mortgage company whose activities some say contributed to the financial crisis of 2008.

Dan Pinello, a gay political science professor at the City University of New York, accounted for Romney’s modest new lead as conservatives coming to terms with the stronger prospects of the former Massachusetts governor winning in the general election.

“A lot of conservatives are finally realizing that they don’t have a viable alternative to Romney, and some of them are just holding their nose and going with him as the best alternative to someone they dislike even more, and that’s Barack Obama,” Pinello said.

Pinello added Romney’s rise in Iowa also could be because a win for Paul — who has significantly less of a chance of winning the Republican nomination or the general election — would have the effect of diminish the caucuses’ importance in the presidential primaries.

“Iowa Republicans have had heard their leadership’s cry that they’ve got to maintain the salience of the Iowa caucus system for the long haul, and choosing someone like Ron Paul doesn’t achieve that,” Pinello said.

As for Santorum — who’s known for being a social conservative and holding anti-gay views — Pinello said the candidate’s new strength is the anti-Romney crowd “scraping the bottom of the barrel” now that Gingrich has become a more unpopular candidate.

“They’ve gone with everyone else, and all those others have never panned out for the long haul,” Pinello said. “And so, [Santorum] is what’s left; he’s the consolation prize it seems in a sense.”

Just last week, anti-gay leader Bob Vander Plaats, CEO of FAMiLY LEADER, threw his personal support behind Santorum in the election, so the candidate’s rise could be the result of that support. ABC News later reported that Vander Plaats solicited money for the endorsement, although the Santorum campaign denied that any agreement was made about money.

Pinello declined to make prediction on who’ll win the Iowa caucuses because of the rapid change of the candidates’ positions in the polls, but said the outcome probably won’t have much bearing on who’ll win the Republican nomination.

“Over the past 40 years, Iowa has only accurately predicted the GOP nominee twice in five contests where there was no incumbent president running on the Republican side,” Pinello said. “That’s not a very good track record.”

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses in 2008 with 35 percent of the vote while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) came in forth. The nomination went to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Pinello said the outcome of the Iowa caucuses would only make a difference the race to win the Republican presidential nomination if Romney emerged as the victor.

“If, in fact, Romney is in first place after everything is over next Tuesday, that would be, I think, significant because it would show that it doesn’t seem to be a really truly viable two-person race after the initial contest,” Pinello said.

Paul’s anti-gay ties under scrutiny

As the Republican candidates continue to rise and fall in the polls, Paul’s record has come under increasing scrutiny because of anti-gay ties and statements found in the newsletters he once published.

The newsletters, which were published under various titles in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, describe AIDS as a disease wrought by gays for sexual misbehavior. The newsletters also contain many racially charged and anti-Semitic statements.

Among the gay-related content of the newsletters:

* If you heard a certain behavior of yours caused a deadly disease, wouldn’t you immediately cease and desist?

* Well, gays in San Francisco do not obey the dictates of good sense. They have stopped practicing “safe sex.”

* The rate of AIDS infection is on the increase again. From the gay point of view, the reasons seem quite sensible.

* They are not married, they have no children, and their lives on centered on new sexual partners.

* They enjoy the attention and pity that comes with being sick.

* Put it all together, and you’ve got another wave of AIDS infections, that you, dear taxpayer, will be asked to pay for.

In a radio interview Thursday with WHO Radio in Des Moines, Paul disavowed the content of the letters, saying he had limited input on the content of the letters beyond the economic pieces. The candidate said controversy over the letters hasn’t harmed his campaign.

“It wasn’t a reflection of my views at all…I think it was terrible,” Paul reportedly said. “It was tragic, and I had some responsibility for it, because the name went out in my letter. But I was not an editor. I (was) like a publisher.”

Christian Berle, deputy executive director of the National Log Cabin Republicans, said Paul’s distancing of himself from the newsletters was “appropriate” because the anti-gay statements contained within them are “outside of the mainstream.”

“When looking at Paul as a candidate it is important to look at his focus on small, limited government which positions himself with many LGBT Americans, who are looking to succeed without Washington, telling them what to do,” Berle said.

Berle noted Paul twice voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment and in favor of measures to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in accordance with libertarian views.

“That libertarian message is one that is resonating in Iowa and across the country,” Berle concluded.

Meanwhile, a recent Paul endorsement from Rev. Phillip Kayser, pastor of Dominion Covenant Church in Omaha, Neb., has also been controversial. The religious leader is known for holding anti-gay views and gone so far as to state the death penalty should be imposed upon gays for homosexual acts.

Kayser makes the case for imposing biblical law in a 2009 publication titled “Is the Death Penalty Just?” and contends that gays should be subject to the death penalty to deter their behavior.

“Difficulty in implementing Biblical law does not make non-Biblical penology just,” he says. “But as we have seen, while many homosexuals would be executed, the threat of capital punishment can be restorative. Biblical law would recognize as a matter of justice that even if this law could be enforced today, homosexuals could not be prosecuted for something that was done before.”

According to Talking Points Memo, Kayser confirmed by phone that he still favors instating biblical punishments for gays — although he doesn’t anticipate the punishment being put in place anytime soon.

The Paul campaign touted the endorsement in a statement, although the response to the pastor’s support has apparently been removed from Paul’s web site.

“We welcome Rev. Kayser’s endorsement and the enlightening statements he makes on how Ron Paul’s approach to government is consistent with Christian beliefs,” said Ron Paul 2012 Iowa Chairman Drew Ivers. “We’re thankful for the thoughtfulness with which he makes his endorsement and hope his endorsement and others like it make a strong top-three showing in the caucus more likely.”

Jerame Davis, interim executive director of the National Stonewall Democrats, said the newsletters and endorsement demonstrate that Paul “has never been a friend to the LGBT community.

“He has a long history of close association with racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic language,” Davis said. “A new endorsement or yet another revelation doesn’t really change a whole lot.”

Davis continued, “He couches his radical ideas in a soft voice and a smile, but no one should be fooled. Ron Paul’s brand of libertarianism would wreck our economy, gut our foreign policy, and turn a blind eye to institutionalized discrimination.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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