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November 14th, 2011

Is Romney in The Catbird Seat In Iowa?

Workers at Giese Manufacturing in Dubuque cut Mitt Romney’s campaign logo into a giant piece of steal shaped like the state of Iowa in advance of his stop there last week.  At a stop in Davenport later that evening, a giant campaign banner was illuminated outside of the large overhead door behind the stage.

Under Romney’s name was his campaign motto, “Believe in America.”  The visual was stunning, but while Romney wants voters to believe in America again, the question on many Iowans minds is, does Romney believe enough in them to put forth a serious effort in Iowa?

Romney’s visit to eastern Iowa last week was his second to the state in the last 18 days.  Many in the media believe that it is a sign that Romney is about to ramp up his activity in the First-in-the-Nation caucus state.  However, even with his two most recent trips, Romney has only visited seven Iowa counties during the current election cycle.  In fact, he’s only visited seven counties in Iowa since finishing second to Mike Huckabee in the 2008 caucuses.

While Romney’s hands off approach to Iowa is frustrating to some Iowans and may have damaged the credibility of the caucuses, it’s hard to argue with Romney’s strategy.  Despite his light Iowa itinerary, Romney has either led or finished a close second in every credible poll of Iowa Republicans this cycle.  The media’s notion that the lack of activity in Iowa by Romney somehow automatically lowers his expectations is ridiculous.  Just because he is out of sight, doesn’t mean he is out of mind.  His position in the polls bears that out.

To understand Romney’s strategy, all one has to do is look at the number of votes that he received in 2008 in the seven counties that he has visited this year.  In the 2008 caucuses, Romney received 13,646 votes in Dubuque, Linn, Polk, Pottawattamie Scott, Story, and Woodbury counties.  Those seven counties represented over 45 percent of the votes he received in Iowa four years ago.

To put those 13,646 votes into perspective, that’s 1,800 more votes than 5th place finisher Ron Paul received that year.  It’s also just 2,200 votes outside of sole possession of third place that year. We also shouldn’t forget that Romney actually won 24 counties four years ago. With that in mind, it should be easy for Romney to pick up that and more as the national front-runner in the caucuses this year.

Romney has spent most of the limited time he has campaigned in Iowa this year in eastern Iowa, an area of the state where he won 14 counties in 2008.  It’s also an area of the state where he should be able to hold on to his support since none of the other candidates have put forth much of an effort there.

There is another factor that may make Romney’s hands-off approach to Iowa pay off – no one has yet emerged as the Mike Huckabee of the race.  What seems to have been forgotten is that Huckabee was able to win Polk County by a sizable margin.   He beat Romney by almost 3000 votes in Polk County in 2008.  Huckabee received just over 8,000 votes, or almost 20 percent of the total support he received state wide in just Polk County.  While a candidate may emerge to be the alternative to Romney, it’s difficult to see any of Romney’s challengers putting up that kind of vote total in Polk County this time around.

According to the polls, Herman Cain is currently Romney’s stiffest competition in Iowa, but he’s actually been to Iowa less than Romney has been lately.  Even when Cain has come to the state, he has focused more on media appearances than events where he could turnout and sign up supporters for his campaign.  Cain’s campaign has also been rocked in recent weeks with allegations of sexual harassment from his time as the President of the National Restaurant Association, and he has shown a lack of understanding on a number of issues.

Besides Cain and Romney, the rest of the field finds itself clumped together in the polls ranging from 5 percent to 12 percent.  While one of those candidates may emerge, many have forgone the type of campaigning that Huckabee employed in the state four years ago.  That presents Romney with an opportunity to actually win a state into which he’s not putting much of an effort… unless something dramatically changes.

Romney’s Iowa strategy may be unconventional, but it looks like it may end up being a brilliant plan.  Romney has been able to hold on to his support in Iowa for a number of reasons.  First, no one has yet challenged him for the establishment Republican vote.  Pawlenty tried and failed.  Perry looked like he might have been able to do it but has since lost all momentum.  And Newt Gingrich is about to try, but he has no campaign apparatus in Iowa to complement the second look he is currently receiving from voters.

Romney has also benefited from a field of candidates that solidified late, as well as a campaign that has seen more volatility than anyone can ever remember.  The next 50 days are critical for the rest of the field.  If someone is really going to challenge Romney, he (or she) will have to break from the pack soon.  As for right now, Romney looks to be in the catbird’s seat in Iowa.  That maybe hard for some people to fathom, but that’s how things look less than two months out from the caucuses.

Photo by Dave Davidson,

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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