Now, with a week to go before voters provide the answer that Romney didn’t, the former Massachusetts governor appears to have about the same level of support as four years ago — only this time that could be enough to win Tuesday’s contest and put him on a path to quickly lock up the Republican presidential nomination.
“They’re trying to get new supporters,” said Brent Siegrist, a former Iowa House speaker who endorsed Romney four years ago and has again this time. “But obviously if they could turn out voters like they did last time, given the split on the Christian conservative side, Romney could end up doing pretty well.”
Returning to Iowa on Tuesday night to deliver a speech kicking off his final burst of campaigning, Romney looked out across the opulent ballroom of a downtown hotel here and wondered whether he had attracted some new backing. “The hallways are full, the stairways are full — this is just amazing,” he exclaimed. “I don’t know how you got here, but I appreciate it.”
The visit was only the eighth of the year for Romney. He is to embark on a statewide bus tour Wednesday and is dispatching a band of surrogates, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, to deliver his message across this state.
For months, Romney, the national front-runner, ran a stealth Iowa campaign designed to manage expectations — shoring up enough support to avoid a disastrous result, but not doing so much that he would have been expected to win. But under the radar, his staff and supporters here have pursued a strategy to squeeze every vote out of a state that is seen as inhospitable to Romney.
“Romney’s advantage this time is that he is the only candidate [other than Rep. Ron Paul] who has worked a caucus campaign previously, so he knows what to expect and knows how to effectively manage expectations,” said Iowa strategist Tim Albrecht, who worked on Romney’s 2008 campaign but now works for Gov. Terry Branstad, who has not endorsed a candidate.
Last time, Romney paid an army of field staff and political endorsers here to build a network of supporters. This time, he is relying mostly on volunteers and a far slimmer paid staff. Instead of blanketing the state as Team Romney did in 2008, they are focusing their efforts on the precincts where they did well four years ago.
Romney has also been sure to maintain some presence. One of his few field staffers, Phil Valenziano, drove to Republican events across the state this summer, manning a folding table with campaign fliers and bumper stickers and recruiting new supporters.