I've recently returned from my annual holiday trip home to central Iowa. While there, a state legislator told me Rick Santorum would carry the local county on Jan. 3rd or come in a close second-place behind Ron Paul.
I was incredulous relative to Santorum doing so well. About 48 hours later, the first polls were released showing that a surge in the former US Senator's popularity had been occurring. I then recalled a pundit on ABC's This Week having said earlier in December to not underestimate the potential dividends of Santorum's months-long hard work in Iowa. It reminded me of the value journalists find in informed, honest, and sufficiently forthright sources near to the action, and in their own experience. We'll see if the legislator’s prediction and the pundit's observation hold true. Based on my own inexpert observations while in Iowa, I think Santorum may in fact win or come in a close second-place in the county that I was in, but I think Romney will win the state.
The only frontline observation of my own that I make with any confidence is that yard signs are thin on the ground! I saw only five signs in four days in and around a town of 15,500 people fairly near Des Moines. Also, I saw not one bumper sticker! When I was growing up in Iowa, forests of candidate yard signs cropped up in neighborhoods. Farmers put them in fields and ditches, and sometimes even painted the sides of barns with their favorite candidate's name. Even in December 2007, while driving along I-80, I recall seeing Clinton, Obama, and Edwards signs galore--at least one barnside proclaiming HILLARY in red, white, and blue, and plenty of signs for Huckabee, McCain and others.
Does the disappearance of the yard sign reflect a lack of voter enthusiasm, or perhaps indecision—an unusually long wait-and-see stance by Hawkeye Republicans? Or maybe smaller campaign budgets? Maybe lesser focus on Iowa by the campaigns? Has the rise of social media or the dominance this cycle of televised debates displaced the need for the valiant foot soldiers of Iowa caucus campaign advertising, those brave little signs that endure wind, snow, the rare defacement attempt, and the more common assault from dog urine? Here's to the return of the humble yard sign.
UPDATE: Unofficial caucus results from my parents' precinct in Jasper County, Iowa - Updated Jan. 3, 2012