Born-Agains in Iowa

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The top line on the new Iowa poll of Republicans is that Michele Bachmann has rocketed into a statistical tie with Mitt Romney for first place, while Tim Pawlenty, he of many visits to the Hawkeye State, is nowhere. At this point, anyway, the first-in-the-nation (Feb. 6) caucus is a two-person race; Romney (23 percent) and Bachmann (22 percent) are 12 points up on the third-place finisher, Herman Cain (10 percent).

Among Tea Party supporters, who constitute a full 63 percent of respondents, Bachmann doubles Romney’s support, 29 percent to 14 percent. No particular surprise there. But among those identifying themselves as born again, Bachmann’s lead is only 20 percent to 17 percent. Unfortunately, the poll seems to have asked whether respondents identify as “born again or fundamentalist Christians” rather than, in the usual manner, as “born again or evangelical Christians.” As a result, it came up with (only) 46 percent of “born again” respondents, as opposed to the 60 percent white evangelicals who turned out for the GOP caucuses in 2008.

Be that as it may, the numbers suggest that 1) Bachmann has not come close to establishing herself as the favorite of Iowa’s many high-turnout white evangelicals; and 2) Romney (the Mormon) is not doing badly with them at all. If Bachmann does seal the deal, she’ll be unstoppable in Iowa–the Huckabee of 2012. But if Romney shows that he can run neck-and-neck with anyone for the party’s evangelical base, he’s got the nomination.