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Gay marriage and Iowa in 2012

From NBC's Harry Enten
With the Iowa Supreme Court's ruling on April 3 legalizing gay marriage, attention has turned to how this decision might impact the 2012 Republican Iowa caucuses.

Possible presidential candidates Charlie Crist (governor of Florida), Mike Huckabee (former governor of Arkansas), Jon Huntsman (governor of Utah), Bobby Jindal (governor of Louisiana), Sarah Palin (governor of Alaska), Tim Pawlenty (governor of Minnesota), Mitt Romney (former governor of Massachusetts), Mark Sanford (governor of South Carolina), and former Speaker Newt Gingrich are all against gay marriage.

The key difference: Crist and Huntsman favor civil unions for gay couples, while the other seven are against.

That difference could possibly sway socially conservative Iowa caucus-goers. In 2008, despite a sagging economy and focus on the Iraq war, 45% of Republican caucus-goers listed "shares my values" as their most important candidate consideration. That number could climb even higher in 2012, if social issues jump to the forefront.

The question is whether Crist's and Huntsman's support for civil unions will ultimately cost them more votes than they will gain. A recent University of Iowa poll offers a mixed answer. According to the poll, 53% of Iowa Republicans wish to ban gay marriage and civil unions through a constitutional amendment. On the other hand, just 30% of Iowa independents -- who have made up about 15%-25% of Republican caucus attendees in recent competitive contests -- favor such an amendment. 

Of course, we do not know if those in favor of a constitutional ban of civil unions are more likely to base their caucus preference on this issue. But one thing is for sure: The issue of gay marriage won't be going away anytime soon.