There are growing indications that Mitt Romney may make a serious attempt to win Iowa after all.
Romney campaigned in the Hawkeye State Monday, his second visit in three weeks. That brings his grand total of events held in Iowa to 15 – far fewer than most of his rivals, and a very different strategy than the one he employed in 2008. That year, he made an all-out effort to win Iowa only to finish second behind former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. (That loss, combined with Romney’s subsequent defeat in New Hampshire at the hands of Arizona Sen. John McCain, critically wounded his campaign.)
This time around, Romney has been trying to lower expectations for his Iowa performance by signaling that he wouldn’t put much time or money into it.
Lately, however, there have been hints he may be reevaluating that strategy. The Romney campaign has been placing thousands of robo-calls in Iowa comparing the candidate’s position on immigration to that of Texas Gov. Rick Perry. He has been hiring additional staff in the state. Romney’s son Josh also made three visits to Iowa last week.
Why the possible shift? For one, many polls now show Romney either leading or close to leading in Iowa. His closest competitor is Herman Cain, whose campaign has been in a state of disarray since news about sexual harassment allegations broke last week. More to the point, Cain has been running an “untraditional” (read: disorganized) campaign, with relatively few field staff in place. And in a state like Iowa – where caucus participants are required to gather for several hours on a cold night in January and must know how to navigate a complicated balloting system – good organization matters a lot.
Pundits and other media types have been arguing for weeks now that if Romney could win in Iowa, and follow that up with another (at this point strongly expected) win in New Hampshire, he’d likely deliver a knockout punch to the rest of the field. The comparison being drawn repeatedly is 2004, when momentum from back-to-back wins in Iowa and New Hampshire propelled Sen. John Kerry (another not-so-loved Northeastern candidate) all the way to the nomination.
But Decoder would argue there’s a slightly different dynamic at work here. While the benefit of winning Iowa may be great, we also think the downside for Romney of losing Iowa has grown as well. Specifically, Romney’s opponents are now so weak that his attempts to lower expectations in Iowa seem less credible by the day.
Imagine if Romney were to lose Iowa to Herman Cain or Rick Perry, two candidates that have been teetering on the brink of implosion. Decoder would argue that the race has gotten to the point where such a loss is increasingly hard to envision – which means that, were it to actually happen, it would be seen as a big deal. The danger for Romney is that a loss in Iowa may very well be interpreted by the media as a direct slap in the face – a sign of a potent, possibly candidacy-killing anti-Romney vote. And the consequences of that could be significant.