7:00 PM, Dec 31, 2011

© 2012, Des Moines Register & Tribune Co.

Mitt Romney tops the latest Des Moines Register Iowa Poll in the closing days before the Iowa caucuses, but Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are poised within striking distance.

The poll, conducted Tuesday through Friday, shows support at 24 percent for Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts; 22 percent for Paul, a Texas congressman; and 15 percent for the surging Rick Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.

But the four-day results don’t reflect just how quickly momentum is shifting in a race that has remained highly fluid for months. If the final two days of polling are considered separately, Santorum rises to second place, with 21 percent, pushing Paul to third, at 18 percent. Romney remains the same, at 24 percent.

“Momentum’s name is Rick Santorum,” said the Register’s pollster, J. Ann Selzer.

Another sign of the race’s volatility: 41 percent of likely caucusgoers say they could still be persuaded to change their minds.

Selzer & Co. of Des Moines conducted the poll of 602 likely Republican caucusgoers, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. In the final two days of polling, 302 likely caucusgoers were interviewed, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5.6 percentage points.

Rounding out the field, in results from the full, four-day poll: former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, 12 percent, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, 11 percent, and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, 7 percent.

The first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses, which take place Tuesday evening, kick off voting in the presidential nominating process. The Iowa Poll, a Register exclusive since 1943, is a much-watched indicator of how candidates are faring in the leadoff caucus state.

The first three Iowa Polls of the 2012 caucus cycle, conducted in June, October and November, featured a different leader each time: first Romney, then retired business executive Herman Cain, then Gingrich. Other candidates took turns in the top tier, too. Bachmann was in second place to Romney in the June poll and won the Iowa straw poll in August. But her support plummeted this fall.

Gingrich surged to the lead with 25 percent support in the late November poll, but slid to 12 percent in the new poll.

Now, it’s Santorum’s time to rocket to the top tier. He has campaigned in Iowa more than any other candidate, stumping the state more than 100 days and conducting more than 300 events since the last presidential election. Next closest is Bachmann, at 80 days.

But until recent weeks, Santorum has struggled to escape single digits in state and national polls. He has campaigned as both a strong fiscal and social conservative, but social conservative voters had remained undecided or split among several candidates.

Romney campaigned lightly in the state until December, but he benefits from the network he built as a candidate four years ago, when he campaigned constantly and poured $10 million into a heavy advertising schedule and a big campaign organization.

Full coverage and analysis of the results will be published in the Des Moines Sunday Register and posted at

Obama signs new sanctions against Iran into law

U.S. steps up sanctions as Iran floats nuclear talks

HONOLULU/TEHRAN | Sat Dec 31, 2011 4:48pm EST

(Reuters) – President Barack Obama signed new sanctions against Iran into law on Saturday, shortly after Iran signaled it was ready for fresh talks with the West on its nuclear programme and said it had delayed long-range missile tests in the Gulf.

Tensions between Iran and the West have grown since EU leaders said they wanted to set tougher sanctions against Tehran by the end of next month in a bid to force it to curb a research programme that they suspect is developing nuclear weapons.

In the absence of a fresh mandate from the U.N. Security Council, which has already imposed four rounds of global sanctions, Washington has also stepped up the pressure with sanctions on financial institutions that deal with Iran’s central bank.

The defense funding bill, approved by Congress last week, aims to reduce the oil revenues that make up the bulk of Iran’s export earnings. Obama signed it in Hawaii, where he was spending the Christmas holiday.

If enforced strictly, the sanctions could make it nearly impossible for most refiners to buy crude from Iran, the world’s fourth biggest producer.

However, Obama asked for scope to apply the measures flexibly, and will have discretion to waive penalties. Senior U.S. officials said Washington was consulting foreign partners to ensure the new measures did not harm global energy markets.

Iran responded to the growing pressure by warning this week that it could shut the Strait of Hormuz if sanctions were imposed on its oil exports. It launched 10 days of naval wargames in the Gulf as a show of strength, further rattling oil markets and pushing up the price of crude.

In the past, Iran has threatened to close the waterway only if attacked by the United States and Israel.

The U.S. Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, said it would not allow shipping to be disrupted in a waterway through which 40 percent of the world’s oil passes.

Analysts say that Iran is playing for time and that its increasingly strident rhetoric shows its clerical leadership is concerned about even harsher penalties.


Against this backdrop, Iran’s state media reported early on Saturday that long-range missiles had been launched during the naval exercises.

But Deputy Navy Commander Mahmoud Mousavi later went on the English language Press TV channel to deny they had in fact been fired: “The exercise of launching missiles will be carried out in the coming days.”

Separately, Iranian media reported that nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili would write to the EU foreign policy chief to say Iran was ready for fresh talks on its nuclear programme, which it says is aimed exclusively at power generation.

“Jalili will soon send a letter to Catherine Ashton over the format of negotiations … then fresh talks will take place with major powers,” the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Iran’s ambassador to Germany, Alireza Sheikh Attar, as saying.

Negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France – plus Germany (P5+1) stalled in January.

Ashton, leading the European negotiators, wrote to Jalili in October and has not yet had a reply, her spokesman Michael Mann said. But the bloc was open to meaningful talks with Tehran:

“We continue to pursue our twin-track approach and are open for meaningful discussions on confidence-building measures, without preconditions from the Iranian side.”

A U.S. administration official added: “We have indicated for years that we are willing to engage in talks with Iran, provided it is ready to engage in a meaningful and constructive fashion.” Senior officials said the sanctions did not alter this policy.

Iranian analyst Hamid Farahvashian said Tehran was seeking to send a message to the West that it should think twice about the economic cost of putting pressure on Iran.

“The Iranians have always used this method of carrot and stick … first they used the stick of closing Hormuz and now the carrot is their willingness for talks,” said Farahvashian.


Talks between Iran and the P5+1 have been stalled for a year and Malcolm Chalmers, Research Director at the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London, said Europe would be sceptical about the offer.

“EU countries will be wary of yet another attempt by Iran to play for time, seeking to postpone sanctions simply because talks have resumed,” he said.

“So Iran will have to offer significant concessions even to get a conversation started on slowing the implementation of sanctions. And, all the time, the Europeans are aware of the growing war talk in Washington, where the pressure on (U.S. President Barack) Obama to launch an ‘October surprise’ to clinch the (U.S. presidential) election seems to be growing.”

The United States and Israel have not ruled out a military option if diplomacy fails to resolve the nuclear dispute.

A senior Western diplomat in Tehran, who asked not to be named, said the fact that the Iranians were stepping up their threats “shows that they are worried about losing petrodollars, on which more than 60 percent of the economy depends.”

The Iranian threat briefly pushed benchmark Brent crude up by more than a dollar to over $109 a barrel this week.

Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi told Saturday’s weekly Aseman that further sanctions would push oil over $200 a barrel.


Chalmers said sanctions were most effective in influencing behaviour when they were imminent and credible but not yet in place as, once in place, they were hard to lift, short of a comprehensive conflict resolution.

“The Iranians know this, and are seriously worried by the prospect of an EU oil embargo, especially as it could be followed by action by the U.S.’s close Asian allies,” he said.

“They could then be left at the mercy of China and India, who are likely to demand big price discounts in order to shift purchases from Arab countries, who will not be happy, to Iran.”

The rising tensions are having an impact at home. Iran’s currency has nosedived in recent weeks as ordinary Iranians have moved money from savings accounts into gold or foreign currency.

The price of staple foods has increased by up to 40 percent in recent months and many critics have put the blame on increasing isolation brought about by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s economic and foreign policies.

Iran’s massive media coverage of the naval manoeuvres appeared an attempt by the authorities to strike a patriotic chord among ordinary Iranians worried about a military strike.

“I have already witnessed a war with Iraq in the 1980s … I can hear the drumbeat of war,” said merchant Mohsen Sanaie, 62, glancing over newspaper headlines at a central Tehran newsstand. “One stray bullet could spark a war.”

(Additional reporting by Hossein Jaseb, Hashem Kalantari and Ramin Mostafavi; Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Jo Boyle and Kevin Liffey; Additional reporting by Vicky Buffery in Paris, Matthew Falloon in London and Alexandra Hudson in Berlin)…7BU09420111231

Va. changing the rules for those who didn’t play by the existing ones.

Two candidates didn’t seem to have a problem with qualifying, now the rest of them, who didn’t do what they knew well in advance to do, are crying foul.  Apparently there has never been a problem before so I tell them to suck it up and as for the voters, you can always do a write in.  If you can’t get a measly 10,000 signatures on a petition in a state the size of VA then you have problems anyway.

Virginia AG Intervenes in GOP Ballot Dispute as Blocked Candidates Join Suit

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is intervening in his state’s presidential primary dispute and plans to file emergency legislation to address the inability of most Republican presidential candidates to get their name on the ballot, Fox News has learned.

Meanwhile, four GOP candidates on Saturday joined fellow candidate Rick Perry’s lawsuit against the state, urging the Board of Elections to either allow them on the ballot or at least refrain from taking any action until a Jan. 13 court hearing.

Only Mitt Romney and Ron Paul qualified for the Virginia primary, a contest with 49 delegates up for grabs. Perry and the four candidates joining the lawsuit — Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman — did not.

The failure of other candidates to qualify led to complaints that the 10,000-signature requirement is too stringent.

Cuccinelli, who is a Republican, shared the concerns and plans to take them to the legislature while the candidates work through the courts.

“Recent events have underscored that our system is deficient,” he said in a statement Saturday. “Virginia owes her citizens a better process. We can do it in time for the March primary if we resolve to do so quickly.”

Cuccinelli’s proposal is expected to state that if the Virginia Board of Elections certifies that a candidate is receiving federal matching funds, or has qualified to receive them, that candidate will upon request be automatically added to the ballot.

Two former Democratic attorneys general are backing the move, along with a former Democratic state party chairman and a former Republican state party chairman.

Former state Attorney General Tony Troy called the Virginia process a “legal and constitutional embarrassment.” Fellow former top Virginia prosecutor Steve Rosenthal said: “This is not a Democratic or Republican issue. If it takes emergency legislation, then we need to do it.”

A spokesman for Virginia Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell appeared to defend the state’s strict ballot rules, but opened the door to reexamining them.

“Virginia’s laws regarding ballot access are well known and have been in place for many years,” spokesman Tucker Martin said. “All candidates seeking to be listed on the Virginia primary ballot in a statewide race have known the requirements well in advance. … It is unfortunate that this year, for whatever reasons, some Republican candidates did not even attempt to make the Virginia ballot, while others fell short of submitting the required number of valid signatures.”

Still, Martin said, “That leaves Virginia voters with only two Republican choices in the March primary, and the governor certainly would have preferred a broader field. He is always open to reviewing how Virginia’s primary system can be improved to provide voters with more choices.”

He said that if the legislature takes action, “the governor would review those changes thoroughly.”

Perry’s campaign applauded Cuccinelli in a statement Saturday afternoon.

“Virginia’s onerous and restrictive ballot access rules do create serious constitutional problems and undermine the rights of citizens and candidates,” the campaign said.

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