NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Republican Iowan voters want the GOP candidates to offer them sound, specific fiscal plans to create jobs and encourage tax reform, but they also want to hear a true conservative social message. Simply, Iowans want Ronald Reagan in Sioux City Thursday night.

With less than three weeks to go before the 2012 race for the White House officially begins at the Iowa caucuses, presidential hopefuls understand that national polls and Florida polls will be meaningless when it comes to claiming the campaign trail's first gem.
Iowans Understand Rick Santorum

"We've heard a lot of grand ideas, but we haven't heard a lot of specifics about how they want to get there," said Linda Holub, city co-chair of Woodbury county in Sioux City, Iowa.

Spending cuts, taxpayer burdens, fiscal responsibility and jobs are on the brains of many Iowans going into Thursday's debate.

Republican voters in Sioux City want to hear about these issues as the city is still on the mend from some 1,500 jobs lost when Smithfield Foods shuttered local meatpacking plant John Morrell & Co.

Loss of private sector jobs was just a slice of the trouble in Sioux City. Holub said when CF Industries bought the Terra Industries plant in Sioux City local non-profit organizations lost a huge amount of donations, which Terra offered many of.

What seems clear is that no one candidate has solidified majority favor among voters in the Hawkeye state.

So does Ron Paul's almost-obsessive fiscal message resonate with Iowans?

"He could win the caucuses this time, he has very devoted followers, I like his monetary and fiscal policies, personally, and I think he's a very capable man with very good organization," said Kevin McLaughlin, Polk County Republican party chair.

McLaughlin said that what has carried Paul in Polk County (which includes Des Moines) is his solid relationship with Christian communities and military families. More importantly, Paul has kept showing up in Iowa to connect with voters -- something McLaughlin said Mitt Romney has not done well.

Paul has instituted a serious grass roots effort in Iowa, which has benefited the Texas congressman in the final weeks before the caucuses as his poll numbers have jumped.

"I think that it will be surprising how well Ron Paul does, because he's been preparing for this for a long time and I think his ground game is pretty good," said Mike Cadwell, a commercial insurance agent in Sioux City. "I think that many people are really tired of all the games that are being played in Washington, and they're interested in the message that Paul's talking about in cutting $1 trillion right away."

Romney, who spent some $10 million on his Iowa campaign in 2008 and finished second to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, lessened his footprint this year so as to avoid the catastrophe that effectively halted his last presidential bid.

But Iowans don't see that as a good excuse for Romney to take the state lightly.

"He's gotten himself into a box here, because now he needs Iowa; he's got to finish well here as he's crumbling in the national polls, and that's a problem," McLaughlin said. "If he starts coming back here a lot, then it looks like he's pandering and that's not going to sit well with people."

Romney scares some conservative Republican Iowan voters, because he comes off as a flip-flopper who once shared moderate views on bigger government and social policy.

But Newt Gingrich has a few of his own skeletons to explain to a sizable faith-based voting community in Iowa.

"They're Iowans are looking for someone who stands for Republican principles ... which are the same principles Ronald Reagan articulated," Bob Anderson, Johnson County Republican Party chair, said. "Traditional family values, those are part of the fundamental ... Republican beliefs and values."

McLaughlin said that he see Gingrich's past faults as something the former House Speaker has acknowledged and reconciled with, which he said has made the candidate a much more appealing candidate.

But a name that most Iowans seem to mention when it comes to faith and family values is Rick Santorum.

Santorum has made family and faith central to his campaign, which is consistent with the former Pennsylvania senator's message when he was in Congress.

Social conservatives in the state like that he consistently makes it clear that he supports life and touts the importance of a stable family environment, but they also appreciate his consistent view of traditional marriage being between a man and a woman.

The problem for Santorum (and Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry) is that Iowan Republicans want to choose someone who can beat Barack Obama.

"They're looking for someone that can beat Barack Obama, that's important," Anderson said. "They're looking for someone who will stand up to Obama, obviously, in the general election debates that will follow."

It's hard for Iowans to pinpoint what candidate they want, and the waning days will likely see generous swings in voter support for the GOP options. They know who they want, but its an impossible hope.

"They're looking for Ronald Reagan, and Ronald Reagan isn't here," Cadwell said.

-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.

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