WASHINGTON -- The race for the hearts and minds of local activists in the early Republican primary states remains up for grabs. Mitt Romney may be the overwhelming favorite of the most powerful Republican insiders, but his hold on grassroots advocates appears more tenuous. That's the message of the latest Power Outsiders survey conducted by The Huffington Post and Patch.
Two-thirds of the influential local Republicans we surveyed in the early primary and caucus states have not yet publicly endorsed a candidate for president. Romney currently leads in terms of potential support, but both Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich have almost as much appeal, and Rick Perry matches Romney in public endorsements from our survey respondents.
The Power Outsider surveys were inspired by academic research showing that endorsements by party "actors" at all levels -- officeholders, party officials and local activists -- are a critical leading indicator of who will become the presidential nominee. More specifically, in their book "The Party Decides," political scientists Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel and John Zaller found that a candidate's share of endorsements just before early primary elections is often a better predictor of the ultimate nominee than early polls are.
It's relatively easy to track endorsements by the most powerful political leaders, and tallies have shown the former Massachusetts governor leading in endorsements from national and statewide officeholders. The vast majority of the most powerful Republican insiders, however, remain publicly uncommitted.
But national and statewide officeholders are just part of the story. The political scientists also base their conclusions on endorsements and decision making at the grassroots level, and that's where our Power Outsiders surveys come in. This week, we asked specifically about endorsements and support, and heard from 172 respondents in the early primary and caucus states, including 47 in Iowa, 51 in New Hampshire, 61 in South Carolina and 13 in Florida.
Slightly less than one-third of the Power Outsiders (31 percent) say they have publicly endorsed a Republican candidate for president.
Within this universe, Mitt Romney and Rick Perry have received an equal number of endorsements (14 each), followed by Jon Huntsman (6), Ron Paul (6), Herman Cain (5), Newt Gingrich (4), Rick Santorum (2), Michele Bachmann (2) and Buddy Roemer (1).
Why have so few of the Power Outsiders publicly endorsed a candidate? A small number (23 percent) say their office requires that they remain publicly neutral. Nearly two-thirds of those who haven't publicly endorsed say that they haven't made up their mind about which candidate to support (40 percent) or are leaning toward one candidate but don't feel comfortable making a public endorsement yet (25 percent).
The candidate standings look very different, however, when we ask the publicly uncommitted which way they're leaning. The chart below combines those who have endorsed each candidate with those who are leaning to support that candidate.
Romney leads the field in combined endorsements and potential support. More than one-third of the Power Outsiders (36 percent) have either endorsed Romney or say there is a "good chance" they will support him -- more than twice as many as say the same about Perry (17 percent). In fact, on the same measure of endorsements plus potential support, Perry also runs behind both Cain (27 percent) and Gingrich (22 percent).
The Power Outsiders survey also asked respondents how likely it was that they would support each candidate -- good chance, some chance, no chance or unsure. The results show that Romney is the frontrunner among local party actors but still far from the consensus choice. Several candidates -- including Cain, Gingrich and, to a lesser extent, Perry -- remain within striking distance in terms of potential support. As the field narrows, any of these candidates could still emerge as the presidential nominee.
With just nine weeks before the Iowa Caucuses, the influential GOP Power Outsiders remain very much open to persuasion.
The HuffPost-Patch Power Outsiders
Our surveys are not a scientific random sample of any larger population but rather an effort to listen to a swath of influential, local Republican activists, party leaders and elected officials in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida. All of the individuals listed below have agreed to participate in the surveys, although not all responded to this week's questions. Interviews were conducted between Oct. 28 and Nov. 1, 2011.
Cory Adams (Story County GOP chair), Leah Adams (Co-Chair, Johnson County Republican Women), Jim Aipperspach (Republican activist), Chad Airhart (Dallas Co. recorder), Skye Alison (Insurance Sales), Roger Anderson (Member, Johnson County GOP Executive Committee), Jeff Angelo (former republican office holder), Shane Blanchard (Waukee City Council), Carmine Boal (Former Congresswoman, now works for governor), Steve Boal (CFO, Accu-Mold), Robert Brownell (Polk County supervisor), Irene Chalmers-Neubauer (Republican precinct captain), Jacob Chapman (President, Dallas County Young Republicans), Andy Christenson (Active Republican), Arleigh Clemens (Co-Chair Johnson County Republicans), Chris Colter (Running for City Council), Creighton Cox (Local politician), Jeremy Davis (Councilman), Tyler DeHaan (IT Services), Tyler DeHaan (Dallas County Young Republicans), Debra Derksen (PR person for Johnson County GOP), Paula Dierenfeld (Johnston Mayor), Mike Elam (Organizer, Dallas County GOP), Jill Ellsworth (Polk County Republicans), Paul Fell (Santorum supporter), Gregory Forbes (story county republican), Amanda Freel (State House Repub Staff), Kathy French (Local politician's wife, active Republican), Paul French (Local politician), Steve Gaer (West Des Moines mayor), Natalie Ginty (Chairwoman, Iowa Federation of College Republicans), E.J. (Polk County Supervisor), Tim Hagle (Iowa University Associate Professor, Political Science), Rick Hermann (Sales Manager, WeatherTech Automotive), Gregory Hudson (blogger), Libby Jacobs (former state representative), Dusty Juhl (Story county central committee), William Keettel (Former head, Johnson County Republicans), Gary Kirke (investor/developer), Kevin Koester (Congressman), Mary Kramer (former state senator), Marilyn Krocheski (Republican Party noteable), Elizabeth Kuennen (story county republican), Jon McAvoy (Head of Dallas County Republicans), Isaiah McGee (Owner, McGee strategies), Chris McLinden (Axis Human Capital, Businessman), Cynthia Michel (Precinct Captain), Randy Munson (Ankeny Chamber of Commerce President), Matt Nolan (Independent Republican, active in community), Mike Nolan (Republican Party notable), Jacqui Norman (Romney leadership volunteer), Scott Raecker (State Legislator), Ben Rittgers (Story County Republican), Will Rogers (Active Republican, businessman), Jim Sandager (West Des Moines city councilman), Rick Sanders (Republican Supervisor), Connie Schmett (Active Republican), Charles Schneider (West Des Moines city councilman), George Sellers (story county republican), Mike St. Clair (Lobbyist), Chad Steenhoek (Member, Strong America Now), Wade Steenhoek (Ankeny City Council), Ronald Stenstrom (Romney Supporter), Karen Svede (Former statewide candidate), Rob Taylor (Running for Iowa House Seat), Deb Thornton (Worked in Republican administrations), Darrow Uhlenhopp (story county republican), Robert White (story county republican), Jack Whitver (State senator), James Wilson (GOP/independent), Eric Woolson (Republican strategist), Randy Yontz (Director Leadership Institute), Paul Zietlow (Co-founder, West Side Conservative Club)
Eric Anderson (Former State Rep/Chair Bow Board of Selectmen), Gary Azarian (Rep-Windham), David Bates (Rep- Windham), Kathy Benuck (BCTV Host/Blogger), D.J. Bettencourt (State Rep., Maj. Leader), Diane Bitter (Rye Republican activist), Travis Blais (Windham GOP Chair), Bill Boyd (Town Councilor), Steve Brennan (Business owner), Bruce Breton (Selectman), Russell Bridle (Former Hampton Fire Department captain/State Rep.), Ed Brooks (Former ME selectman, town councilor), Chris Buck (Republican activist), Chris Buda (Merrimack GOP Chair), Jamie Burnett (Consultant), John Cebrowski (State Rep. - Bedford), Chris Christiansen (State Rep), Mark Cookson (Alderman-at-large), Tim Copeland (State rep.), Jim Costello (American Government teacher), Margaret Crisler (Windham GOP), Juanita Dangel (Secretary Hillsborough County GOP), Gary Daniels (State Rep), Ed Declercq (Planning Board), Jerry Delemus (Republican activist), Shari Demers (Activist), Julie DiCarlo (Small business owner), Ron DiCarlo (Small business owner), Bob Duffy (Nashua GOP City Committee), Bob Elliott (State Rep.), Gary Ellmer (Chairman, Porsmouth Republican Committee), Frank Ferraro (Exeter Selectman), Laura Foote (Activist), Mauri Foster (Retired), Sheila Francoeur (Seacoast Republican Women member), Michael Gallagher (Nashua Republican City Committee, running for Alderman), Bianca Garcia (Former Salem GOP Victory Office mgr), David Garcia (Salem Town GOP Chair), John Graham (State Rep. - Bedford), Brian Griset (Member of local political committee), Lisa Hansen (Romney supporter), Peter Hansen (State Rep), Pat Hargreaves (Selectman), Jeff Hatch (Salem Romney Town Chair), Ken Hawkins (State Rep - Bedford), Dick Hinch (Current State Rep), Jennifer Horn (Republican activist), David Hurst (New Hampshire Young Republicans chairman), Zac Johnson (Technical writer), Ken Jones (Member of Amherst Republicans), Gary Krupp (Member of the School Budget Committee), Steve Landry (Small business owner), Tom Linehan (GOP Activist), Phil LoChiatto (Selectman), Eduardo Lopez-Reyes (Software engineer), Marie Lopez-Reyes (Sales), Di Lothrop (Nashua GOP City Committee), Stephen E. Ludwick (Chairman, Supervisors of the Checklist, Ward 9), Jim Luther (State Senator), John Lyons (Lawyer), Kris MacNeil (Former State Senate candidate), Joel Maiola (Former Judd Gregg Chief of Staff), Andrew Manuse (State Rep - Derry), George Markwell (School Board Member), Harry McClard (Freelance writer), Patrick McDougall (Budget Committee), Charles McMahon (Rep- Windham), Bill Modis (Vice Chair of Amherst Republicans), Maureen Mooney (Past State Rep), Keith Murphy (State Rep - Bedford), Tasha Olsen (Republican activist), Rick Paige (Loan officer), Michele Peckham (State Rep.-N. Hampton), Amy Perkins (State Rep.-Seabrook), Lawrence Perkins (State Rep.-Seabrook), Kathryn Peterson (community activist), Lenette Peterson (State Rep), Pam Price (former state rep), Lee Quandt (State rep.), Matt Quandt (Exeter Selectman/State Rep.), Tom Rath (Consultant), Fred Rice (State Rep. (Hampton)), Jim Rubens (Former Republican State Sen.), Pete Silva (Rep - Nashua), William Smith (Conservative Blogger), Dan St. Hilaire (Executive councilor), Brandon Stauber (Small business owner/recent Exeter transplant), Kathy Stroud (State Rep), Chris Tremblay (Activist), Pam Tucker (Deputy House Speaker), Mark Vincent (Chair of Amherst Republicans), Jim Waddell (State Rep. Hampton), Tom Walker (Conservative Republican), Robert Washburn (Former City Councilor), Kevin Waterhouse (Rep- Windham), Raymond White (State Sen. - Bedford), Alan Williams (North Hampton resident, former Exeter selectman), J. Christopher Williams (Pres. Nashua CC), Tony Zore (Tea Party member)
Aubry Alexander (Charleston City Council - District 9), Thomas Alexander (State Senator), Dean Allen (Tea Party Activist), Charm Altman (President Sea Island Republican Women), Patrick L. Arnold (Campaign and fundraising consultant), Todd Atwater (S.C. Rep. Dist. 87), Rep. Nathan Ballentine (SC House Dist. 71), Bill Banning, Sr. (Vice-chair, Lexington County Council), Bob Barnwell (Richland Co. GOP Spring Valley), Joseph Bates, Jr. (Committeeman/ Richland Co. GOP Dutch Fork), Eric Bedingfield (State Rep/Congressional Staffer), Rick Beltram (Former Spartanburg GOP Chair, Self-quoter), Lin Bennett (Chair, Charleston County GOP), Rich Bolen (Chair, Lexington County GOP), Andrew Boucher (Business consultant and political advisor), Phillip Bowers (Chairman, Pickens County Republican Party), Dan Bracken (President/ The Auction Co. & Real Estate Inc.), Edward Britt (Engineer), Joe Bustos (Former town councilman), Jay Byars (Dorchester County councilman), Bob Call (Berkeley County Councilman), Tim Callanan (Berkeley County GOP Chairman), Earl Capps (Blogger), Ed Carter (Small business owner), Ben Coakley (Investment advisor), Edward Cousar (Executive Director, Black Republican PAC), M. Todd Cullum (Lexington County Council member), Rep. Joe Daning (Statehouse rep.), Smokey Davis (Lexington County Council member), Dana Eiser (Lowcountry 9.12 president), Linda Eiser (9/12 conservative), Scott Farmer (Richland County GOP Committeeman), Chip Felkel (Political Consultant), Will Folks (Editor, fitsnews.com; spokesman for former Gov. Mark Sanford), Leland Glen (Author), Chris Godbey (Political Consultant), Susan Grady (Republican activist), Randy Halfacre (Mayor of Lexington), Dan Hamilton (State Representative), Larry Hargett (Dorchester County Council chairman), Val Hutchinson (Richland County Council), Johnny Jeffcoat (Town of Lexington Economic and Community Catalyst; Lexington County Council member), Jim Jerow (Georgetown GOP Chair), Debbie Jones (9.12 Board Member), Joanne Jones (Republican activist), Grayson Kelly (Fundraiser), James Kinard (Banker, Chair, Lexington County Council), Todd Kincannon (Lawyer/former executive director of SC Republican Party), Bob Kouvolo (President/ MaxPt), Mickey Lindler (Chairwoman for Republicans of Lexington and Richland Counties), Chris Mann (City Councilman), Karen Martin (Organizer/Spartanburg Tea Party), Larry Martin (State Senator), Taft Matney (Conservative Political Consultant), James Metts (Lexington County Sheriff), Matt Moore (Executive Director for SC GOP), Susan Morris (Nonprofit executive director), Mike Murphee (Charleston Tea Party chairman), Deborah Myers (Political activist), Brent Nelsen (Professor of Political Science/former candidate for Supt. of Education), Don Nye (Bank employee), Allen Olson (Former Chairman of Columbia TEA Party), Walt Owens (University Professor), Randy Page (President,South Carolinians for Responsible Government), Gregory Pearce (Richland Co. Councilman), Kathy Perry (Charleston County Republican Women), Adam Piper (SC GOP 3rd Vice Chairman & political director for Huntsman campaign), Zach Pippin (GOP Media Consultant), Barbara Pulicicchio (Political activist), Rick Quinn (S.C. Rep. Dist. 69), Jeff Reuer (Vice Chair Goose Creek 9-12), DeLinda Ridings (SC GOP State Secretary / Huntsman campaign), Robby Robbins (Lawyer), Emily Rudolph (Sea Island Republican Women), LaDonna Ryggs (Spartanburg GOP Chair), Michael Sally (Hanahan City Councilman), Dennis Saylor (Chair, Aiken GOP), Bill Severns (Rep. for Beaufort Republican Men), Lanneau Siegling (State Executive Committeeman), Billy Simons (Conservative activist), Garry Smith (State Rep), John Steinberger (Fair Tax activist), Mary Ann Taylor (Charleston County Republican Women/Charleston County School Board), MacLain R. "Mac" Toole (S.C. Rep., Dist. 88), Frank Townsend (Lexington County Council member), September Wellborn (State GOP Delegate), Jennifer Willis (County Councilwoman/ V.P. One Tree Hill), Henry Wilson (2011 delegate, S.C. Republican Convention), Cheryl Woods-Flowers (Former mayor, Republican official), James David Woodard (Professor of Political Science, Clemson University)
Ed Blommel (Candidate for Pasco Tax Collector), Guyann Bracken-Fay (Liberty School member), Kathy Brown (FishHawk Republican Club member, 912 activist), Sharon Calvert (Tampa Tea Party organizer), Courtney Clem (FishHawk Republican Club Secretary, college student), Kelly Clem-Rickon (FishHawk Republican Club VP), John B Conneely (Delegate to the Presidency 5 convention and straw vote in Orlando), Anne Corona (West Pasco Republican Club President), John Costig (Brandon912 Leader), Deborah Cox Roush (Hillsborough County Republican Party chair), Vic Crawford (Brandon912 member), Clif Curry (Brandon Republican Club member), Scott Cutler (Brandon912 member), State Sen. Mike Fasano (Senator), Stacy Feiler (Activist; Liberty Tree Consulting), Coni Ferguson (912 member), Gym Fish, Sandra Graves (Co-vice president of the Republican Club of Pasco), Steve Graves (Co-vice president of the Republican Club of Pasco), Julia Hassler (Club Politico President), Al Higginbotham (Hillsborough County Commission Chair), Dawn Hudson (Republican), Joanne Hurley (Pasco school board chair), David Jolley, Susan Kiser (Registered Republican voter), Shari Kotsch (West Pasco Republican), Eileen LaBorde (912 member), Casey Mattox (Central Pasco Republican), Diana Mattox (Central Pasco Republican), Rachel O' Connor (Pasco county commission candidate), Wayne Pickard (912 member), State Rep. Richard Corcoran (State Rep), David Rowan (Central Pasco Republican), Christopher Shalosky (Fishhawk Republican Club President), Nancy Talsma (Central Pasco Republican), Sid Talsma (Central Pasco Republican), Jenah Victor, Todd Wall (Central Pasco Republican), Sam Ward (Central Pasco Republican), Gene Webb, Patrick Weightman (Central Pasco Republican), Shirley Wood (Pinecrest912 leader)
The slideshow below shows how GOP Power Outsiders have reacted to the Republican presidential candidates over the course of the race: