Romney’s Iowa Strategy; Surrender or Fight?

Bookmark and Share Reports have it that Mitt Romney is mulling over the possibility of skipping the Iowa Caucuses in 2012 and having his campaign launch in New Hampshire, the state with the second nominating contest in the nation.
In 2008, Romney ran an aggressive and expensive campaign in Iowa. In fact, Romneys Iowa journey began in 2007 when he was the first to start airing campaign ads. Just in preparation for the Ames. straw poll, an important summertime precursor to the Winter caucus Mitt Romney had hired a legion of 60 statewide, so-called super-volunteers, that were paid between $500 and $1,000 per month to campaign for him; over $2.4 million in television ads, a top notch direct-mailing campaign that along with other non-TV campaign materials cost another $2.5 million in , and a consultant who managed Mitts straw poll campaign for $200,000. None of the other Republican contenders came close to either Romneys organization skills or size, or the financial investment he dumped into the state. And that was just up until the time of the straw poll which was held in August of 2007. When the straw poll results were in , Romney won with 32%, which consisted of 4,516 votes. Translating in to financial costs, that meant Romney spent approximately $1,107 per vote for a total of about $5 million.

By the time the actual Iowa Caucus rolled around , five months later in 2008, Romney more than doubled the $5 million he had spent up till the straw poll. But in the end, he lost the Iowa Caucus to Mike Huckabee by 9.18%. Huckabee spent a fraction of what Romney spent and he received 40,841 votes or 34.41% and Romney garnered 29,949 with 25.23%. Interestingly, John McCain, the man who ultimately went on to win the Republican nomination, he came in fourth place with 15,559, 13.11% of the vote. So was Romneys investment in Iowa worth the bang for his buck? In retrospect, it sure wasnt. Having saved his money in Iowa didnt hurt John McCain. But McCain went on to win in New Hampshire, a state that by nature of demographics, Romney should have won. This time, it looks like Romney is realizing that.

Despite the rash of recent reports about Romney skipping Iowa are not new. The thought of bypassing Iowa in 2012 has been in play by the Romney camp for quite a while now. In an October 20, 2009 article for the Iowa Republican by Craig Robinson, Robinson pointed out that Mitt had over $400,000 in his Iowa state PAC, when his presidential campaign ended in early February of 2008 and since the fall of 2008, he had been draining the funds from that PAC.

Robinson also pointed that in June of 2009, Romneys Iowa PAC was down to $203,380.91 and instead of making contributions to county party organizations and legislative candidates, Robinson writes he was using the state PAC to subsidize the salaries of aides, like his former campaign manager, Beth Myers, and Eric Fehrnstrom, his former communications director. They were expenditures that had nothing to do with supporting Iowa candidates or building an organization for his leadership PAC.

All things considered it is easy to see that that the notion of ignoring Iowa has been in the back of Romneys mind for a while and it is also easy to understand why.

After the all out effort that Romney put into Iowa in 2008 and recent polls which show Iowa Caucus voters preferring Mike Huckabee to him, Mitt has to consider the possibilities of not only Huckabee running again, but of the possible candidacies of people like Sarah Palin, Mike Pence, John Thune and possibly even Rick Santorum. If all of these candidates were to run in Iowa, they could sharply divide the large evangelical vote that Romney is not fairing well with, thereby giving him the chance of consolidating the rest of the vote into a win. But if from that group, only one or two of them run, such as Huckabee or Palin, than Romney risks coming in second or even worse. That result would probably grab the headlines more than the winner would. This would make Romney vulnerable, not so much in New Hampshire but especially in South Carolina, an increasingly important lead in state to the delegate rich Southern contests.

The question becomes this. If Romney cant win in Iowa, can he win in South Carolina, a state that has an evangelical vote of similar influence to that of Iowas? And if Mitt cant win South Carolina, can he seriously compete in the significant string of Southern states that follow?

Mitts thinking could easily be to focus on insuring that he wins the New Hampshire primary that should be in his pocket but lost to McCain last time, and then build up at least the impression of momentum with a win in Nevada followed by even the smallest of wins in South Carolina. Perhaps by taking the money and time that he would have placed into Iowa, and invest it in South Carolina instead, will help provide his campaign with the type of long term strategy that he needs to keep him alive in places like Michigan, New Jersey, New York, and other high delegate count states.

As for Iowa, Mitts strengths exist in the Northeastern and Western border counties of the state. These are some ofIowas most highly populated counties. If Mitt was able to target these approximately 18 counties and increase his pluralities in them, he could have a shot at reversing the results of 2008. And if Huckabee is his major opponent in Iowa, it is worth noting that Huckabee has a rather large Achilles heal that all his rivals could easily exploit. The issue of the multiple clemencies that Huckabee gave as Governor of Arkansas, and subsequently resulted in additional crimes, including the death of 4 police officers in Washington state, will take some of the shine off Huckabee. It is also an issue which could be a decisive factor in Huckabees decision to run or not to run.

But Mitt has to make a decision regarding Iowa soon. If he does plan on competing in Iowa, he cant wait too long to snap his organization back together. But Romney has made sure that a final decision has not yet been made on Iowa. Since Craig Robinson’s, 2009 piece in the Iowa Republican, reported more than $100,000 in expenditures from his Iowa political action committees in the final fundraising report of 2010. His Iowa PAC also contributed $10,000 to the gubernatorial campaign of Terry Branstad, $1,000 to Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey and State Auditor David Vaudt, as well as a $2,500 contribution to Senate candidate Joni Ernst and $1,500 to Iowa Senate candidate Andrew Naeve All totaled, Romneys Free and Strong – Iowa PAC ended the year with more than $108,000 in cash on hand.

So Romney has not closed the door on Iowa just yet. That decision will likely come when he knows who he will be running against.
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