It’s an accepted truth in presidential politics that the Iowa caucus has the power to make or break any campaign. In 2008, the caucus thrust Mike Huckabee into top-tier status, and Mitt Romney’s second-place finish was, in some ways, the beginning of the end.
What’s more, Iowa politicos are all-too aware of their state’s prominence during election cycles. When presidential candidate Jon Huntsman admitted his strategy will keep him out of Iowa, state officials layered on the criticism.
“If he doesn’t come to Iowa, he’s not going to be the Republican nominee,” Don Racheter, vice chair of Iowans for Tax Relief, was quoted as saying in the Des Moines Register.
Steve Scheffler, a Republican National Committeeman, told local media that Romney “needs to come to Iowa…”
“I don’t think he should have to think about coming to Iowa,” Scheffler added. “He does need, in my view, to participate in Aug. 11 debate and Aug. 13 straw poll.” (Romney skipping Iowa straw poll)
State Rep. Steven Lukan was also recently quoted as saying, “I think anybody that chooses to skip Iowa does so at their own peril. It’s very much a state that anybody can come in and do well in if you’re willing to commit the time. Iowans work very hard at vetting their candidates. Candidates leave Iowa better than they came here.”
It’s a sentiment that is often applied to every presidential candidate. But so far in the 2012 cycle, Romney appears to be the exception to the rule.
This time around, the former Governor of Massachusetts has taken a different approach to the state. While Romney does have a campaign structure in place, it’s minimal and much less active than it was three years ago. (CBS ignores Herman Cain’s performance in Iowa poll)
His first campaign trip to the state this year was not until the end of May. Moreover, earlier this month, the Romney campaign announced he will be skipping all straw polls, including Iowa’s in August.
Despite that, Romney has led in almost every single Iowa poll for the Republican candidates.
According to RealClearPolitics, Romney has come in second in two statewide polls, finishing behind Sarah Palin. The last three Iowa polls, however, showed Romney at the top of the field.
Although that does include the Des Moines Register poll that had Romney in a statistical tie with Michele Bachmann, the last PPP poll and Neighborhood Research poll had former Massachusetts governor clearly at the top.
In the PPP poll, Romney came in at 21 percent. Sarah Palin and Herman Cain tied for second with 15 percent. In the Neighborhood poll, Romney finished with 15 percent and second place went to Newt Gingrich with 8 percent.
While those polls are just a snapshot of Romney’s stature in Iowa, it’s clear he’s enjoying a relatively effortless lead.
Iowans chalk it up to name identification and residual effects from the 2008 campaign, in which Romney invested millions of dollars.
“Romney enjoys a lot of name ID,” one Republican source told The Daily Caller, adding that ongoing fluidity in the field has worked to Romney’s benefit.
Plus, the sources added, “He has a campaign here, thought it is smaller than it was in 2008.”
“It’s name ID at this point, reflecting again the imp0rtant nature of the Iowa caucus,” said Tim Albrecht, Communications Director for Governor Terry Branstad. “It’s organize, organize, organize. So while the polls reflect a certain line-up now, those who can mobilize their people to the straw poll and caucuses can defy any polls and any convention wisdom.”
“To me, Mitt Romney is a likable guy,” said Republican consultant Phillip Stutts. “I think it also shows the quality of the other candidates out there. The question is, can he grow beyond 25 percent? Is that his ceiling? Or can he go beyond that?”
Dave Funk, co-chair of the Polk County GOP, had a different take on the Des Moines Register poll, telling TheDC it is not an “accurate depiction of the Republican field,” since it polled an equal number of Independents and Republicans.
Can Romney actually win the Iowa caucus?
“Of course,” said Stutts. The GOP source, on the other hand, replied by saying to expect a lot of movement in the field, especially after the straw poll.
Albrecht added that while Romney still has a loyal following from 2008, “those supporters could spread out to other candidates, but so far they really haven’t.”