By Amie Parnes - 12/31/11 12:00 PM EST
President Obama’s campaign will be ramping up its grassroots machine in Iowa this weekend as it prepares for the rival it has long expected in 2012: Mitt Romney.
Obama's team in Chicago has been fixated on Romney in recent months, as the former Massachusetts governor was long seen as the candidate most likely to emerge from the GOP fight.
While there could still be a late shift — anything has proven possible in this dramatic race for the GOP nomination — Romney looks as strong as ever a few days before the caucuses, with even a second place showing in the state being seen as a victory.
Now, Obama’s campaign with its eight offices throughout Iowa — from Sioux City to Waterloo — is using the Republican caucus as an “organizing opportunity” and a practice run of sorts for the general election. While Obama, who spent months courting voters in the Hawkeye State back in 2007, is not in a competitive primary race this time around, campaign aides say they hope to get thousands to turnout on Tuesday, while they court likely voters for November.
“We never let our organization [in Iowa] go away,” said one Obama campaign aide, adding that the organization has thousands of volunteers reaching out to their various “networks.”
Since April, supporters have also had more than 4,000 one-on-one meetings, made 350,000 calls, held planning sessions and get-out-the-vote house parties “to ensure that the president has maintained a presence here,” the aide said.
Obama himself will remind caucus goers and potential supporters what’s at stake on Tuesday when he will be appear via a webcast live feed across the state.
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Meanwhile, Obama supporters are also mobilizing to retaliate against what is estimated to be a $4 million pro-Romney ad buy, which has taken shots at Obama.
Sue Dvorsky, chairwoman of the Iowa Democratic Party told reporters this week the Romney ad buys have the party’s attention, especially, “in a market this size” and the local Democratic Party is pushing back.
The former Massachusetts governor is trying to “make up for not actually coming to Iowa and talking to Iowans,” Dvorsky told reporters at a press conference Friday — immediately following a Romney campaign stop at a West Des Moines grocery store less than a mile away.
“He comes here and he makes contentions about the president’s record,” Dvorsky said. “And ... and what we’re looking at is him using those ads in order to make sure Iowans don’t have much of a chance to ask the questions and kick the tires and look under the hood, which is typically what has happened.”
Dvorsky along with R.T. Rybak, the mayor of Minneapolis and vice chair of the Democratic National Committee spent much of the 30-minute press conference showing the contrast between Obama and Romney.
Rybak said that while Obama went door-to-door to try to win Iowans support in 2007, Romney “has chosen to do it the old fashioned way, which is to try and buy it.”
“And that’s wrong,” he said, before talking about Romney’s record of flip-flopping. “You have to question: What does he stand for?”
While some Obama campaign aides were still saying — at least publicly — a Romney nomination was “premature,” the Obama team and DNC officials were naming their upcoming opponent this week in a string of emails and conference calls.
Earlier this week, the morning after Christmas, the Obama campaign was quick to send to reporters a Washington Post editorial about Romney’s “secret money.” On Friday, the DNC released a web video pressuring Romney to release his tax returns, and that followed countless emails where the DNC upped the ante on Romney.
At the same time, Romney — who has spent recent weeks taking shots at his Republican competitor Newt Gingrich — has also turned his attention to Obama as he gears up for the general election.
In an interview with the Huffington Post on Thursday, he accused the president of sounding like Marie Antoinette.
“When the president’s characterization of our economy was, ‘It could be worse,’ it reminded me of Marie Antoinette: ‘Let them eat cake,’” Romney said. “This is not a time to be talking about, ‘It could be worse.’ It’s a time to recognize that things should be better.”
“He didn’t cause the recession, but he made it deeper and has made the recovery more tepid and the pain last longer,” Romney added.
Obama, currently vacationing with his family in Hawaii through the New Year, has only alluded to Romney in recent comments but has largely avoided mentioning any of his potential rivals by name.
“If I propose a health care bill that is full of Republican ideas — in fact, is very similar to the law that was passed by the current Republican front-runner, or one of the top front-runners, the other guy was supportive of many of the ideas as well — suddenly they became against it,” Obama said referring to Romney and Gingrich in an interview earlier this month with Barbara Walters.
But Obama aides have their arsenal against Romney ready to go. Asked about Romney as a potential opponent in the general election, one Obama aide listed a litany of reasons about why Romney would be wrong for the country, including allowing Wall Street to “write its own rules again.”
“One of the things we made clear is that we weren’t going to give the Republicans a free year to distort the president’s record,” one campaign aide said.
In Iowa, a state Obama carried in 2008 by nine points over then-rival John McCain, Democratic officials and campaign aides say they are prepared for not only the caucus but the general election.
“That’s what Jan. 3 is about. It’s about Nov. 6," Dvorsky said.