Current Status: Falling
Mitt Romney may have turned around the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake, but he will need to lead an even bigger turnaround if he wants to win the Iowa caucuses in 2012.
Romney invested millions of dollars and countless hours in Iowa during his 2008 campaign. His early Iowa strategy not only worked, it worked extremely well. Romney went from being a second tier candidate in late 2006 and early 2007, to a formidable challenger in the summer, to the national frontrunner by the fall. Romney’s problem was that he peaked too early. As we all know, Romney suffered a big loss in Iowa to Mike Huckabee, which was followed by a loss to John McCain New Hampshire.
In many ways, Romney was a victim of his own success in Iowa. His boisterous Iowa campaign ran moderate candidates like John McCain and Rudy Giuliani out of Iowa in the summer of 2007, and he basically created the perfect environment for a conservative candidate to take root to the right of him politically.
Had there been a heated campaign between Romney, McCain, and Giuliani in Iowa, Huckabee would have continued to struggle for attention, and Romney would have appeared to be more conservative since McCain and Giuliani held plenty of positions that would have allowed Romney to be to the right of them. It also didn’t help that, as the campaign progressed, it became abundantly clear that Romney was contradicting himself from his previous political views.
Last week, in an interview with Hugh Hewitt, Romney said that a presidential campaign would take him to Iowa. Many in the media took that to mean that he will campaign hard in the First-In-The-Nation state. I didn’t. Iowa creates a number of problems for Romney, and I don’t know many Iowa politicos who think he’s going to lay it all on the line at the Iowa Straw Poll in August even though he did so just four years ago.
Instead Romney will likely try and keep his existing Iowa supporters solidly in his camp during the early stages of the campaign, then transition to a media campaign in the fall. That plan looks good on paper, but keeping those supporters in his camp is going to be difficult if he’s not personally campaigning in the state.
It seems to me that Romney is quickly becoming the Rudy Giuliani of the 2010 campaign. Giuliani, who was considered by most to be the national frontrunner for a large part of 2007, was in a constant state of retreat in the 2008 election cycle. While nobody thought he could win a conservative state like Iowa, many expected him to campaign hard in New Hampshire. When New Hampshire didn’t look so hot for him, he then retreated to Florida.
Giuliani’s decision to basically bypass the early states meant that he was left out of the conversation. While candidates like Huckabee and McCain enjoyed the immense media coverage that came with winning an early contest, Giuliani had to start defending his failure be competitive in various states. Finally, when he did compete in Florida, he got beat, and his campaign was over.
Romney is basically telegraphing that he’s not going to put much at stake in conservative states like Iowa and South Carolina. Skipping two of the first three states is not only a sign of weakness, but also a clear indication that Romney is once again going to morph into another version of himself. Making us all wonder who the real Mitt Romney is.
Romney built an impressive Iowa operation for his 2008 campaign. It’s hard to believe that he’s willing to just walk away from that type of investment. Yet, that’s exactly how it looked during Romney’s two visits to Iowa in 2010 when he failed to talk about anything of much substance. It’s hard to believe that all Romney had to tell to Iowans was how he was mistaken for John Kerry at an airport and how he thought that some Chinese people recognized him, but they were really pointing to Kobe Bryant who was seated behind him.
Being the frontrunner is a fickle thing. While its great for fundraising, it means that all of your opponents are aiming at the target on your back. With his only major accomplishment being Massachusetts’ Romneycare, the precursor to Obamacare, it doesn’t matter what state Romney wants to compete in because it’s going to be a difficult campaign.
There are a lot of people who will point to McCain’s decision to skip Iowa twice as evidence that Romney will not be severely damaged his he basically skips Iowa. Those people forget that there is a big difference between what McCain did and what Romney appears to be about to do. Romney has already laid it on the line in Iowa, while McCain only stepped foot in Iowa in 2000 for a presidential debate.
A Romney decision to skip Iowa or only half-heartedly campaign here will only confirm that his time as the perceived frontrunner in 2012 will be short lived.
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