Romney signals aim to win Iowa by running first in-state TV ad

Mitt Romney in running his first television ad in Iowa, a signal he’s playing to win the Iowa caucuses.

It’s a move fraught with risk for Romney, as it will raise expectations for his performance in the caucuses, where he had a disappointing performance in 2008.

The ad, which is already airing in New Hampshire, is a positive one that focuses on Romney's economic plan.

His campaign painted the move as a long-expected step, but it will ratchet up expectations in the state. The decision comes as Romney faces a strong challenge from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who has moved to the top of national polls.

"In the closing weeks before the caucuses, we will continue to make the case that Mitt Romney is the best candidate to beat Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden to debate for first time as front-runner John Kerry: Play based on Mueller report is 'an act of public service' Obama photographed alongside Clooney on boat in Italy MORE," said Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul. "Mitt Romney has always said that he would campaign and compete in Iowa. He looks forward to participating in the two upcoming Iowa debates. 

"Going on television is just another tool in getting Mitt Romney’s message out that Barack Obama has failed as a president, and that he is the best choice to grow the economy, cut spending and create jobs."

The campaign did not announce how much money was behind the ad or how long it will run.

Romney’s campaign has faced tough tactical questions of how much money to invest in Iowa. Given his lackluster performance in 2008 and the conservative bent of the state’s caucus voters, some observers believed Romney would continue to focus his efforts on New Hampshire.

Romney's campaign has long tried to downplay expectations in Iowa, a state where he invested heavily in 2008 only to lose to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, which badly damaged his campaign's momentum. He has a smaller field staff there and has spent much less time there than lesser-known candidates.

In spite of that, Romney had remained at or near the top of most Iowa polls with a consistent 20 percent or so of support, while other candidates surged then faded. But Gingrich's rise has cut into some of that support in the polls and threatens Romney in the state.

"I think he has to at this point... went along and played it safe, had solid debate performances and [his poll numbers] didn’t go up and didn’t go down until the Cain descent and the Gingrich ascendancy brought about a reduction in Romney’s numbers," Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) told The Hill. "As he’s seen his numbers drop off by about as much as a third in Iowa I think he’s got to arrest that fall, he’s got to commit a lot more resources here. I think we’ve got to see a lot more of Mitt Romney in Iowa."

If he can win in Iowa Romney will appear to be the inevitable nominee — he is likely to win New Hampshire and could score a quick knock-out blow as the otehr candidates struggle to keep up the fundraising needed to compete beyond those two states.

But Romney's move to openly compete in Iowa carries risks. If he has a repeat of his 2008 performance, is perceived as going all-in in the state and loses, that could do damage to the aura of inevitability his campaign has tried to create. While he continues to hold strong leads in New Hampshire, which votes a week after Iowa, Romney has not spent much time in South Carolina and badly trailed Gingrich in the two most recent polls in Florida, the next two states to vote.

That means if Gingrich doesn't fade the Republican primary season could extend into Super Tuesday in early March, and perhaps beyond.

Watch the ad here: