With Huck out, will Mitt still snub Iowa?

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
Font Size:

As Iowa Governor Terry Brandstad urges the GOP’s crop of would-be nominees to launch the presidential campaign in earnest, putative front runner Mitt Romney appears poised to cede the caucuses entirely, even as Mike Huckabee, who won the state in 2008, said he would forgo a second primary bid.

Presumably, the caucus calculus for Romney — who staked north of $10 million on his ill-fated efforts to win the cornfield contests last time — should shift now that Huckabee is out of the picture.

Romney and his senior aides had reportedly devised a potential campaign strategy in which the ex-governor would launch his campaign from New Hampshire, the second state on the national primary circuit. His travel schedule, which has born no visits to the Hawkeye State since October 2010, suggests they may have settled on this path to the nomination.

But might things change? “With Huck out, Romney has one less excuse for ‘skipping’ Iowa,” New York Times political handicapper Nate Silver reflected of Huckabee’s Saturday evening announcement. “Think this magnifies the importance of the state.”

Sadly, there is a notion that religious bigotry might mean Romney can’t win in Iowa — but Mormonism isn’t exactly anathema to Iowa primary voters. Newly-elected Iowa Secretary of State Matt Schultz, for example, shares Romney’s Mormon faith — yet he won a fierce primary battle against an ex-state legislator and U.S. Senate hopeful for his party’s nomination.

“Romney and his campaign have shown a knack for using the religious bigotry card in an effort to either explain why he lost in 2008, or why he’s not competing in certain places in 2012,” Craig Robinson, editor of the influential TheIowaRepublican.com and former political director of the Iowa Republican Party in 2008, wrote earlier this month of Romney’s indecision.

“If anything, the political tealeaves suggest that Iowa could be more hospitable to a Mormon candidate this time around,” he continued. “Yet, Romney has not stepped foot in the state for the last 195 days. Could it be that the reason why Romney is so hesitant to campaign in conservative states like Iowa and South Carolina is because it’s his record that he’s scared to defend, not his faith?”

The governor’s hesitation may lie in those same polls in which he was at the top of the heap: There exists limited cross-pollination between his supporters and those who were prepared to caucus for Huckabee.

The Romney-Huckabee grudge match dates to the latter’s tactical allegiance of convenience with Senator John McCain in the 2008 presidential contest, where the two men flanked the former Massachusetts governor in such a way that it was impossible for him to claim victory in the critical early states. As history will tell you, the alliance worked and Romney’s campaign fizzled.

No such alliance exists this cycle, and his absence has begun rubbing wrong Iowans.

Matt K. Lewis