With the other Republican candidates struggling and a wide open field in Iowa, Mitt Romney may have to eventually rethink his strategy of keeping Iowa on the back-burner, according to some strategists.
Romney skipped the August Iowa Straw Poll and has spent only five days in Iowa in the last year. Rick Perry has already eclipsed that total by a day, and other presidential hopefuls’ time in the Hawkeye State can be measured in months.
An American Research Group poll of likely Iowa Republican caucus-goers had Romney in the lead with 21 percent support, with Michele Bachmann at 15 percent and Perry at 14 percent.
Former Iowa GOP Political Director Craig Robinson said that while he personally was not a fan of the former Massachusetts governor, he thought Romney could win the state.
“I have never seen a clearer sign that he should come to Iowa and campaign than I see today,” he said. “I’m not saying he needs to spend 20 days here a month, but if he dropped into the state two or three times a month and has a presence here, shows Iowans he wants their vote, the sky’s the limit for him.”
Romney’s campaign wants to set expectations low in the state so that if they don’t win it doesn’t hurt them heading into New Hampshire, where he is expected to do well, and if they do win it will be seen as a surprise and build more momentum.
David Kochel, Romney’s Iowa director, said that Romney has no plans to retool his volunteer-driven Iowa operation to make it more like the large-scale operation he had in place in 2008.
“That’s been consistent with what we’ve said all around — we did say we’re going to campaign here and that’s going to happen. And we said all along it was going to be a completely different campaign,” Kochel said. “It’s much more of a volunteer-driven effort and completely scaled differently. But we have an opportunity here to do well.”
If Romney were to win in Iowa, with his strong standing in New Hampshire he could build a lot of momentum heading into South Carolina and possibly secure the GOP nomination quickly. And he has plenty of time to recalibrate his Iowa efforts.
Bob Vander Plaats, a prominent social conservative who ran for governor in 2010, said that Romney has a much easier path to victory this year than he did in 2008.
“He has to be taking a look at this and saying ‘they’re all dividing up that conservative, Tea Party, Evangelical base Huckabee cemented last time. If I can just hold steady, hold my own and keep my head down I could win Iowa,’” Vander Plaats said.
“He’s playing his cards very close to the vest but he also knows, being the CEO type, that he made a multi-million dollar investment into Iowa four years ago and he also knows there will be some residual value to that investment four years later. Some of the people who bought into Romney and wanted him to be president still want him, and if he keeps doing well with the debates, with a couple of late appearances into Iowa he could surprise people,” Vander Plaats said.
Alex Castellanos, a GOP strategist who worked for Romney in 2008 but has stayed neutral this election, said that his former boss’s best strategy was to sit pat — for now.
“For Romney the wise thing to do is wait and see how fractured the Republican field is in Iowa. If someone leaves the cash register open maybe he’ll have the opportunity to sneak in and snatch the dough,” he said. “I don’t see it’s to his advantage or anyone’s to raise the expectations in Iowa.”