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Posted at 12:45 PM ET, 03/11/2011

Is Romney really going to risk it all in Iowa?

By Jennifer Rubin

A reader e-mailed me last night with two excellent questions: If neither Mike Huckabee nor Sarah Palin runs, does Mitt Romney make a real effort in Iowa? And if he does and loses, is he "toast"?

For quite some time I predicted Romney would not run a serious campaign in Iowa. Remember that he didn't win over critical Christian conservatives in 2008, and there is no reason why he'd do better in 2012. Working so hard in Iowa may have hurt his chances in New Hampshire in 2008. And when he lost there too, he was done for in 2008. That logic did not appear to carry the day inside the Romney camp in this campaign, and he recently announced he would compete in Iowa. Even without Huckabee and Palin in the race, Romney will face stiff competition from Tim Pawlenty and possibly from Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour. In fact, the departure of Huckabee and Palin may help the anyone-but-Romney voters coalesce around a single candidate. In short, I think Romney is locked into mounting a real race in Iowa, a race he could easily lose.

That brings us to the next question: Is a defeat in Iowa fatal? When the frontrunner with the most money, the biggest and most experienced staff and near-100-percent name recognition loses, it may not be a death blow, but it's a major blow nevertheless. More important, if the winner is a credible nominee (e.g., Pawlenty, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels) that person becomes the chief anti-Romney opponent around whom the base may rally sooner rather than later. It is for this very reason that I thought Romney wouldn't want to risk it all (or close to it) in Iowa.

There is one final point. Let's say a telegenic governor of a blue state or a superstar congressman from the Midwest decides this fall to take the plunge. Such candidates would have the perfect excuse not to run in Iowa (it's too late!), to rail against ethanol subsidies and to make their stand in New Hampshire, where fiscal issues, not to mention opposition to RomneyCare ObamaCare, will be front and center. In that case, does Romney pull out with the excuse that the latecomer isn't going to Iowa? Maybe. But if he sticks it out in Iowa, he'll be handing the latecomer a big advantage, namely the ability to focus on one small state that is very receptive to a message centered on fiscal restraint. Heck, if the latecomer were a successful governor who tamed a blue state or a Republican superstar who set President Obama back on his heels on ObamaCare, entitlement reform and the debt, that person could decide in December to make the run. Just saying.

By Jennifer Rubin  | March 11, 2011; 12:45 PM ET
Categories:  2012 campaign  
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Comments

Dearest Jennifer Rubin,

Duh.............!

Romney and his team are waaaaaaaaaaaaaay ahead of you on the subject. He's actually learned to use you media and journalist loons with your over anxious nature to blab every thing you think you know and your prideful desire to comment on every little thing he says and does. Your bias' against conservatives and Mitt Romney are your own itchy downfall.

His plan from the start was to play coy in Iowa, let Huckabee get fat and sassy while loving what Huckabee loves most, wealth and the good life...then time it just right and strike in Iowa and win it there too. You leftest journalists are always trying to manipulate the little guy and you lack real "vision". Do you know what the number one leadership characteristic is? Pres. Obama doesn't have it. Neither does his WH team. Mitt does, and that's what all this is about.

Posted by: poggmahon | March 11, 2011 2:13 PM | Report abuse

@poggmahon

Your vast insider knowledge must be a heavy burden. Don't strain yourself.

"Do you know what the number one leadership characteristic is? Pres. Obama doesn't have it. Neither does his WH team. Mitt does, and that's what all this is about."

Now I understand why, after the 2008 election cycle, when Romney and Obama both had the opportunity to court the same American public, Obama wound up as President, and Romney ended up... where?

Thanks for clarifying us on that one.

Posted by: dougAthensGA | March 11, 2011 4:01 PM | Report abuse

I'm not well-schooled in strategy so I'm only ruminating here, but one of the widespread perceptions of Romney is that he's slippery, that he panders and he says whatever he has to to court votes, right?

If he knows he doesn't have a chance in hell of winning over Iowans anyway, might it not be a good strategy to go to Iowa and make a huge point of NOT pandering to them? Of telling Iowans what they don't want to hear on ethanol? Of highlighting his differences with the less nationally popular aspects of social conservatism or perhaps seconding Daniels' truce?

[Although it may be much-derided by the hard conservative base, I suspect that truce isn't anywhere near as heretical to rank & file primary voters, many of whom are members of the Tea Party - which itself has been successfully operating on a truce of sorts on social issues - and are already comfortable with the idea.]

In other words, he'd go up there only to use the dais in Iowa as the bully-pulpit to reach Republicans & Indies elsewhere & trying to convince at least some of them that he's not the flip-flopping finger in the air panderer they theretofore believed he was by dramatically demonstrating that he's willing to tell Iowa primary voters to take their nationally harmful parochial demands and shove them. (except on a nicer way,lol.)

Because I'm not so sure, given Huckabee's wildly disproportionate popularity there, that winning Iowa would be seen as such a good thing anywhere outside of Iowa anymore, would it? Am I wrong that it's now become the KOD (Kiss of Death) primary?

He shouldn't be obvious about it (in fact he needs to do a decent headfake for the gambit to be effective) but letting whoever the anti-Romney in the Iowa anti-Primary is do all the pandering & spend boatloads of $ to do it may be Romney's ONLY chance of getting anywhere at all in the long run, given his image problems on top of his MassCare problem with the base.

Posted by: leilani_texas | March 11, 2011 4:57 PM | Report abuse

Jennifer,

Why the obsession with Romney and writing his political obituary?

Seems as if you continue to perpetuate scenarios for how Romney's candidacy will implode.

This sounds like language from the Democrat Party leaders who don't want Obama to run against the guy.

It appears to me that Barack and Co. and their willing minions are really running against Mitt Romney right now, hoping to end his chances of securing the nomination so that next year, their toughest potential opponent is one they never have to run against.

If they can defeat him now and convince Republicans to nominate Huckabee or Palin, then it would seem they believe the 'Re-Elect' is secured.

But what does that really say about Mr. Obama? Sounds like an admission by his own supporters that he is in-over-his-head as President and vulnerable in the upcoming battle if they feel they must intervene now to ensure he goes into the 2012 battle with a weak opponent.

I say let Romney run his campaign and let’s see what happens. Let Republicans pick their nominee. No need for the press to predict how it plays out now. All this talk of Romneycare and a ‘death blow’ sounds like what the Democrats are currently peddling and they have an agenda.

Posted by: Ci2Eye | March 11, 2011 6:23 PM | Report abuse

I was going to suggest leilani's anti-pander strategy, but she put it better than I would have.

I don't know who I will vote for, but I would love to hear someone go to Iowa and tell them ethanol subsidies have to go.

Posted by: MrDo64 | March 11, 2011 9:07 PM | Report abuse

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