Mitt Romney will be back in Iowa, leading some pundits to gasp: “He’s changed his game plan!” That’s really not accurate. But, on the other hand, it’s not accurate to say Romney doesn’t have a greater opportunity to do well than, say, when Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn) was riding high in the polls this summer.
Yesterday, I reported on some concern, especially among social conservatives, that turnout could be down in Iowa. A GOP party official takes exception to that, offering some important detail. He e-mails me his prediction that turnout will be about 140,000 — “160,000 if it’s a nice day.” But the composition of the caucuses will be different, he explains. “Evangelicals feel a calling to be a part of the political process. One way or another, they’ll be there. But, their percentage will be down this year. Last time 119,000 voted, with 60% being evangelical. That’s 71,000. If 140,000 people vote this time, those additional 20,000 won’t be evangelicals. So, turnout will be 50% evangelical.” And that, of course, provides an opening for Romney, who is not likely to win the lion’s share of the evangelical vote.
The percentage needed to win isn’t very high. The Republican official explains, “It’s the first time since 1996 there won’t be a contested Democratic caucus. [Bob] Dole won with 24% that year.” In 2008, Romney won 25.2 percent of the vote, with 29,949 votes. The official observes that Romney’s support in the state is “still just as strong” as in 2008. He contends Romney’s supporters “haven’t gone anywhere.”
And that, more than the surge of Newt Gingrich or the collapse of Bachmann, accounts for the Romney camp gradually putting the foot on the gas. Romney never intended to abandon Iowa entirely, but now he’s got every reason to increase his presence and encourage those 2008 holdover to turn out on Jan. 3. The best of all worlds for Romney would be a large core of loyal supporters and a divided, less prominent evangelical electorate. Oh look, that’s what he has.