By Craig Robinson
Since securing the Republican Presidential nomination in late spring, Mitt Romney has visited Iowa a handful of times. Since May, Romney has visited Council Bluffs twice, Des Moines twice, Scott County twice, and Orange City once. Romney also made a quick stop in Dubuque, but that event wasn’t open to the public and was more of a photo op than anything else.
Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan has visited the state four times since being selected as Romney’s running mate. Ryan has visited Des Moines twice, Cedar Rapids once, and Adel once. Adel is located in Dallas County, one of the fastest growing counties in the state, which contains part of Des Moines metropolitan area.
Later this week Romney’s wife, Ann, will also travel to Des Moines to headline an event for her husband. All told, more than half of visits to Iowa by Romney, his wife, and his running mate, will have been to the Des Moines area, while the rest of the state, including some of the most conservative areas, have barely seen the Republican nominees.
The Romney campaign’s emphasis on and around Des Moines is baffling. Make no mistake, Polk County and the surrounding area are important, but so too is western Iowa where many of the state’s conservatives call home. Another important area is eastern Iowa, which has long been the battleground in statewide elections.
It’s hard to figure out if the Romney campaign is lazy, dumb, or just scared. Des Moines is probably the easiest town for Romney to pull off an event on short notice. In addition to having some stalwart supporters there, there are plenty of Republican politicos who work in the city that can help and have flexible enough schedules to attend events at odd times of the day. Most of the Romney infrastructure in the state is also located in Des Moines.
Maybe the Romney campaign just isn’t smart enough to realize that they need to campaign all across the state. Des Moines media is always the best for covering the campaign when it comes to town, but it’s not like they refuse to travel. Des Moines is also an awful town to hold political events. Sure the media likes it when the campaign comes to them, but activists from outside of Des Moines are not going to navigate Iowa’s capitol city to go to a political event.
Another factor that makes Des Moines an awful place to hold campaign events is that most of the people there don’t get worked up when a candidate comes to town. It seems like someone is always in Des Moines. For example, former President Jimmy Carter was in town last Friday. Carter’s visit barley registered a blip on people’s political radar. And while a lot of people know when a candidate is coming to town, there is never a sense of urgency to go see them. Most will wait to see it on the news or read about it in the newspaper.
The other possibility is that the Romney campaign is scared to hold campaign events outside of Des Moines and Scott County. In fact, when you look at the communities that the Romney campaign has visited, they have only gone to counties in Iowa where they did very well on caucus night. Since Romney has struggled to generate large crowds in “safe” places like Council Bluffs, Des Moines, and the Quad Cities, they may be hesitant to hold events in areas of the state where Romney has not performed well. Ironically, Romney’s largest Iowa crowd to date was in Orange City, a place that is dominated by social conservatives. That is a place where Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum both dominated.
While Romney is being selective in where he campaigns, the Obama campaign seems to be going everywhere. Just yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden campaigned in Ottumwa and Grinnell. The day before, he was in Burlington. The President himself has visited towns like Ames, Boone, Marshalltown, Sioux City, Oskaloosa, Iowa City, Newton, and Waterloo – all are towns that neither Romney nor Ryan have visited.
It’s hard to fathom how a sitting president can campaign more extensively in a state like Iowa than his challenger can. Some have suggested that Obama’s extensive campaigning in Iowa is a sign that he is struggling in Iowa. While it’s true that Obama probably should have been able to take Iowa off of the list of battleground states by now, his Iowa campaign strategy makes a lot of sense.
Just like the Democrat National Convention was geared to base Democrat voters, so to is the Iowa Obama campaign. First of all, the major metropolitan areas that general election candidates always visit tend to strong areas for Democrats. Secondly, Obama and Biden have visited college campuses in Iowa City, Ames, and Grinnell. On top of that, visiting blue-collar areas like Boone and Marshalltown is also a savvy nod to the base, while also reaching out to rural voters.
In 2008, Obama crushed John McCain, defeating him in Iowa by more than 146,000 votes. While Polk and Scott County made up a large portion of that margin, those two counties only represent 30 percent Obama’s 2008 margin over McCain. Other counties like Black Hawk, Dubuque, Johnson, Linn, and Story counties constituted 60 percent of Obama’s margin over McCain, and yet the Romney campaign has barely campaigned there.
They say that Iowa is a battleground state in the presidential election. One only needs to turn on the television set to realize that’s the case. However, Romney’s approach to actually campaigning in the state tells a different story. If he were running for Polk County Supervisor, I’d pat him on the back and tell him to keep up the good work. Unfortunately he needs a statewide victory in November.
Unless the Romney campaign gets serious about Iowa by campaigning in places like Ames, Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, and places in between, Iowa is once again going to be a blue state, and his chances at winning the election get even slimmer. It’s time for the Romney campaign to leave the comforts of Des Moines and campaign in the rest of the state.
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