A good friend of mine was once asked by the media, “Why does the presidential nominating process start in Iowa?” Sure, there is a historical way answer to the question, but my friend smiled and answered the reporter’s question with one of his own.
“Why is the Rose Bowl played in Pasadena?”
The point that he was making was a simple one, the reason Iowa kicks off the nomination process is because it’s something we have been doing for a long time now, its ingrained into the political process, and it has to start somewhere, so why not Iowa?
It never takes long for the presidential activity to return to Iowa after an election. In fact, potential presidential candidates were making their way to Iowa long before President Obama was even inaugurated. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal was in Iowa less than three weeks after Obama defeated McCain in the general election. While it usually doesn’t start that early in Iowa, a steady stream of potential presidential candidates have already made their way to the First in the Nation caucus state. Next month, both Tim Pawlenty and Ron Paul have trips to Iowa on their calendars.
While a number of GOP presidential hopefuls and attention seekers have made their way to Iowa, there is one well-known candidate who seems to not want anything to do with Iowa – Mitt Romney. Romney had his eyes fixated on Iowa almost four years before he would announce his candidacy in 2007. This time around, he is ignoring the Hawkeye state. Romney has traveled all around the country raising money for his Free and Strong Leadership PAC and headlining Republican fundraisers, but he hasn’t stepped foot in Iowa.
Romney hasn’t totally forgotten about Iowa. When his presidential campaign ended in early February of 2008, he had over $400,000 in his Iowa state PAC. Since last fall, Romney has slowly been draining the funds from his Iowa PAC. Before the 2008 elections, Romney made a $30,000 contribution to the Republican Party of Iowa, a $10,000 contribution to State Senate candidate Kim Reynolds, and a handful of other contributions to legislative candidates. Those, however, are the last expenditures his PAC has made in Iowa.
In June of this year, Romney’s state PAC’s balance was down to $203,380.91. Instead of making contributions to county party organizations and legislative candidates, Romney is using to his Iowa PAC to help subsidize the salaries of aides, like his former campaign manager, Beth Myers, and Eric Fehrnstrom, his former communications director. None of these expenditures have anything to do with supporting Iowa candidates or building an organization for his leadership PAC.
Romney’s decision to drain funds from his Iowa PAC sends a signal that he could very well bypass the Iowa caucuses in 2012 if he makes another run for the Republican nomination for president. If Romney was planning on another Iowa caucus campaign, keeping funds in his state PAC would have allowed him to set up an early Iowa organization like he did in 2006.
Adding to the speculation that Romney might opt to skip the Iowa caucuses in 2012 are recent comments from one of his former advisors, David Kochel, an Iowa native.
Last week, Kochel told the Des Moines Register, “Given the changing nature of the caucus electorate and the ongoing increase in the proportion of Christian conservatives in that electorate, some candidates will be looking to downplay Iowa.”
“Iowa may become a little more optional than it’s been in the past,” he added.
Kochel also pointed out that a strategy that bypasses Iowa now “clearly works.” While it is true that both Ronald Reagan and John McCain have bypassed the caucuses and won the nomination, it’s a strategy with a considerable amount of risk.
When you look at who the potential 2012 presidential candidates will be, they all seem like natural fits for Iowa. Newt Gingrich is a constant presence in Iowa. Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is on his way to Iowa next month and just hired two Iowa natives to manage his leadership PAC. Mike Huckabee surely wouldn’t turn his back on Iowa. Sarah Palin would have a base of support. Additionally, any lesser-known candidate will embrace the Iowa caucuses because the caucuses don’t require millions of dollars just to participate.
If Romney skips the Iowa caucuses, he’s going to be in a position in which he absolutely has to win the New Hampshire primary. The media is going to have very high expectations for him to win the state that he now calls that state home. It also means that he is going to have to sit back and see who emerges in Iowa. Romney has invested a lot into Iowa, and it is shocking that he would walk away from everything that he built here. Romney received 25% of the vote, almost more than Fred Thompson and John McCain received combined.
After winning the Ames Straw Poll, Romney found it difficult to close the deal with caucus goers. The lesson that he should have learned from that experience is that, no matter who is participating in the caucuses, it’s going to be a competitive race and the media will cover it.
In 2012, it looks like there will be an ample list of Republican presidential hopefuls willing to once again make their case to Iowa Republicans. If the race is between Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty and Sarah Palin, the media will have a field day covering it.
I’m confident that Iowa will once again kickoff the nomination process. The field of Republican candidates will be of a greater caliber than their 2008 counterparts. And once again media outlets from all over the globe will descend to Iowa to cover the race – whether or not Mitt Romney decides to participate.
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