Iowa's undecided voters: Here's what they're sayingby Catharine Richert, Minnesota Public Radio
INDIANOLA, Iowa--If there's a new character in the story of the 2012 Iowa caucuses, it's the undecided voter.
Take Larry Mark of Creston, Iowa, who has been participating in Republican presidential caucuses for much of his adult life.
"I'm more undecided this time than ever before," he said. "In my mind, you can't have it be all hinging on one issue. There are too many issues out there and they're all important. And in the end, you're going to have to decide which candidate agrees more with your philosophy."
Mark, who was attending a campaign event for Rick Perry, likes the Texas governor for his experience running a state, and he's considering Mitt Romney for the same reason. Regardless of who wins the GOP nomination, Mark wants the next president to eliminate Barack Obama's health care overhaul and create jobs.
Mark's conundrum isn't unusual among Iowans these days. Many Iowa caucus-goers are waiting until the last minute to decide who they will support in Tuesday's Republican nominating contest.
The latest poll numbers underscore the fluidity of the contest so far. For instance, a survey conducted this week by Public Policy Polling shows that 28 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers may support someone other than the candidate they're thinking of voting for.
Some voters say they aren't overwhelmingly pleased with any of the candidates. Lori Jeter of Creston joked that she'd like to cherry-pick aspects of each candidate and combine them into one person.
Vandy O'Mara of Indianola, Iowa, is among those who say it is tough choosing between so many strong candidates.
"There's a lot of good options, so it's hard to decide," she said. "I think they all definitely have good points, and I would take any of them over Barack Obama."
O'Mara says she's considering giving Rep. Michele Bachmann her vote because Bachmann seems to be a person with strong values. But she's also considering Rick Santorum and Perry, who are running closely with Bachmann in some polls. All three candidates share similar records on abortion issues and do not agree with same sex-marriage, among other things.
While O'Mara says electability is among her considerations in choosing a candidate, Carrie Melcher of Lamoni, Iowa, is focusing on the candidate who best reflects her values - and that means front-runner Mitt Romney is out, she said.
"The only thing I'm sure of is I'm anti-Mitt Romney," said Melcher who is weighing Ron Paul's economic policy against Bachmann's authenticity. "I just don't trust him. He seems to say whatever he needs to say to get elected."
It's still unclear whether voters will come down on the side of electability or ideological purity in Tuesday's election, said long-time caucus watcher and Drake University political science professor Dennis Goldford.
"These voters don't want to settle," Goldford said. "That's particularly the problem with religious conservatives. In their view, they've settled too often."
Goldford is equally perplexed by this year's nomination contest.
In the past, those who had already held public office were clear choices, he said. But this time around, that's not the case. And the governors in the race, namely Romney and Jon Huntsman, aren't trusted by social conservatives, he said.
"If you go back and look at 2008, at this point [Mike] Huckabee was clearly in the lead by a good number," Goldford said. "There's been no other obvious candidate. That's the problem."
Settling on a candidate rather than voting with conviction could spell disaster for the GOP in general election, said Warren County Republican Party Chairman Rick Halverson during an interview at the Indianola Pizza Ranch restaurant, a popular stop on the campaign trail here.
In 2008, members of his committee would not support or work for Sen. John McCain because they did not agree he was the best person to represent the Republican Party, despite the fact that he was perceived as electable by centrists.
And, of course, McCain lost to Obama in the general election.
Halverson already sees ambivalence toward Romney, who is leading in the most recent polls despite the fact that he's spent relatively little time in Iowa meeting voters. He sees a Romney candidacy as much like McCain's.
"The same thing is going to happen if Mitt Romney is our candidate," Halverson said. "I'm not going to work for him, I'm not going to support him, and I'm not going to vote for him if he's our candidate."