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Keller @ Large: Can’t Get A Handle On Iowa Voters

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Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign stop on January 1, 2012 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign stop on January 1, 2012 in Council Bluffs, Iowa. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

420x316-grad-keller2 Jon Keller
Veteran Boston political commentator Jon Keller is heard every weekday...
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BOSTON (CBS) – Who is going to win tomorrow night’s Republican caucuses in Iowa, the first actual votes of this already endless campaign?

Search me.

Since I arrived in Des Moines yesterday afternoon I’ve been asking everyone I meet who they’re for, and getting mostly shrugs and eye-rolling.

Polls have proven useless in the past out here because of the uncertainty over who will actually show up at the local function hall on a frigid work-night to participate.

WBZ-TV’s Jonathan Keller Is At Large

And they’re especially problematic this year because many Iowa Republicans find themselves torn between their ideological beliefs and their sense of pragmatic political reality.

Just check out the poll in the Des Moines Register over the weekend, which was, on the surface, very good news for Mitt Romney, who finished in a virtual tie for first with Ron Paul.

By large margins, likely voters see Romney as the most electable candidate in November, and nearly 80 percent of them say they’d be reasonably happy if he winds up as the nominee, more so than with any other candidate.

This reflects a sensible perception that, by comparison with the competition, Romney seems qualified, experienced, and reasonable.

It may even be a sign that some voters, at least, see the relentless criticism of his notorious flip-flopping as overdone, that it’s not such a badge of dishonor to have an open mind and be responsive to public opinion.

But the Register poll also suggests that Romney may not win the caucuses, or even finish second.

His people were telling me yesterday they’d be happy with third.

Ron Paul is so confident of the intensity of his support here that he chose to hang out at home in Texas over the weekend while all the other candidates were shivering here.

And a higher percentage of Rick Santorum’s supporters say they will absolutely show up tomorrow night than for any of the others.

Even though Iowa Republicans tell the pollsters the economy is the number one issue, the truth is the economy isn’t doing that badly here, and that leaves room for issues of faith and character, ideology and personality to have an impact.

And the one thing we do know about Iowa caucus voters is they’ve been searching all year for someone other than Mitt Romney to back, from Bachmann to Perry to Cain to Gingrich and now, Santorum, a candidate so clueless, he blamed “liberalism” for the Boston archidocese sex-abuse scandal, as if Cardinal Law wasn’t the most conservative Republican in town.

How could someone that dense win this thing?

Maybe because one of the leading radio talk-show hosts in Des Moines says his fellow Iowans think Romney is “a lying sack of shinola.”

Maybe I’ll have a better handle on what’s going on out here for you by this time tomorrow.

Then again, I can’t get a handle on something the voters themselves don’t have a handle on.

You can listen to Keller At Large on WBZ News Radio every weekday at 7:55 a.m. and 12:25 p.m. You can also watch Jon on WBZ-TV News.

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