DES MOINES — The final poll ahead of Monday's caucuses showed Donald Trump rallying to a five-point lead over Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, with two days to go before voting, but it also revealed a line of attack that could sink Trump.
In addition to asking about presidential preferences, the Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll asked voters if they were bothered by certain information about the candidates. By far, the most bothersome bit of information tested about either candidate: "Donald Trump supports the use of eminent domain to take private property for public or private projects, with compensation to the landowners." Presented with this information, 60 percent of Republican voters said it bothered them, compared with 35 percent who said it did not.
Eminent domain is a big issue in Iowa, where projects involving the government seizure of private property have drawn the ire of farmers. As my collegue Al Weaver reported last week, Trump touted the use of eminent domain in an area where farmers have been protesting a proposed regional airport that would involve land seizures. Driving around Iowa over the past few days, I've noticed a number of signs on farms on the side of the road reading, "Stop Eminent Domain Abuse."
But Trump's defense of eminent domain goes beyond even situations in which it's being used for public use. As a casino owner, he tried to use government power to take away the home of a wealthy widow for a fraction of what she had been offered for the property in order to build a limo parking lot for one of his Atlantic City properties.
Though Cruz did criticize Trump's record on eminent domain and air an ad about it, it only ran shortly in favor of ads directed against Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. Should Cruz go on to lose Monday, many will be questioning whether the results would have been different were Cruz to have carpet bombed the state with the message consistently in the final weeks of the campaign.
It also raises an opening for a Trump rival to pick up the line of attack in the closing days of Iowa and as the race moves into New Hampshire and beyond. The reason it could be potent is that Trump has remade his image in the campaign as a populist who will look out for the little guy and fight special interests. But his actual record in business cuts against this, given that he would use government to expand his empire.
Liz Mair, who has formed a super PAC "Make America Awesome" that has been airing an ad that mentions eminent domain abuse among other attacks on his populist bona fides, saw the poll results as vindicating.
"The Des Moines Register's final pre-caucus poll makes clear what Make America Awesome's data has shown for months: Trump-inclined voters will only be dissuaded from backing him if they see Trump as just another rich guy who's been screwing them over economically, rigging the system and then making bank while their lives get tougher," Mair said in a statement.
At a press conference in New Hampshire in November, I pressed Trump about his record of supporting government land seizures on behalf of private businesses. He said it was a "stupid question" and went on to defend the practice as "necessary."
Last week, the Washington Examiner ran an editorial detailing Trump's record of trampling on private property rights.