Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), who remains stronger in Iowa than she does nationally, will campaign almost exclusively in the Hawkeye State between now and the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.
The reshaping of the race in Iowa marks a remarkable shift since just last month, when Bachmann had surpassed her rivals with a win at the Ames Straw Poll, Romney was making little effort to campaign here and Perry hadn’t yet joined the race.
The cause of much of the refocus is Perry, whose popularity among evangelical Christians and tea partiers gives him an advantage in a state with a deeply conservative Republican electorate. That could cut off Bachmann from her strongest base of support. And Perry’s momentum from a win here could overpower Romney in subsequent states, such as New Hampshire and Florida, where Romney has invested heavily.
Doug Gross, Romney’s 2008 campaign chairman in Iowa who has remained neutral this year, said Romney’s engagement in Iowa will make the state “ground zero” for the Republican nominating contest nationally. He also said it was inevitable, because Iowa is so important as an early state.
“It rounds out the field, because you’ve got pretty much all segments of the caucus electorate with someone they can support,” Gross said. “It impacts Perry the most. Perry was trying to occupy some space that includes economic conservatives as well as social conservatives. So he’ll have to refocus his efforts. This will be ground zero for the campaign. This will be very hotly contested now.”
Jim Conklin, who heads the Iowa Conservative Union, said Romney can build on his foundation from his 2008 campaign.
“Romney has a very, very strong base here in Iowa, so if he tickles it just a little, they’ll come back to life,” said Conklin, who is supporting former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) in the race. “I’m sure he’s going to do very well.”
Even though Perry has caused others to adjust their Iowa strategies, his remains unclear. Fresh off a swing through the state last week, the Texas governor has promised to compete everywhere, but he has declared no early state a must-win or more crucial to his path than another.
“Governor Perry is committed to running vigorously in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and every other state in this country,” spokesman Mark Miner said.
While he was nearly omnipresent in the state four years ago, Romney has campaigned in Iowa only once since starting his 2012 campaign: a trip in August to attend a debate, hold a small-business roundtable and visit the state fair.