For months, Romney’s campaign in Iowa appeared to be moving in slow motion, but it has suddenly taken on a new intensity and some Republican strategists say the former Massachusetts governor is building his Iowa momentum at just the right time.
The volatile political landscape in Iowa underwent its latest jolts in the past 36 hours, scrambling the fortunes of several candidates — most notably Santorum, Paul and Newt Gingrich — and left Romney in his most favorable position in Iowa so far.
In a year that has produced one candidate surge after another in Iowa, Santorum on Thursday was trying to capitalize on a new poll by CNN and Time magazine showing that he has tripled his support in December and is now running third behind Romney and Paul.
Claiming that the Obama White House fears his candidacy more than that of any other Republican, the former senator kept up his steady campaign pace, but in the predictable rhythm of today’s politics, Santorum’s rise made him the latest target of scrutiny and attacks from some of his rivals.
Santorum’s move came in part as a result of a steep slide by Gingrich, who has been barraged by negative TV ads for the past several weeks. A new analysis by Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group reported Thursday that 45 percent of all the advertising in Iowa since Dec. 1 has been negative ads aimed at Gingrich. Only 20 percent has been negative ads aimed at Romney.
The other candidates — Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) — pressed forward against the odds, hoping that Iowa voters, who have been changing their minds for months, will deliver one last unexpected twist to the narrative.
But increasingly, the focus of the race is Romney and his potential to win Tuesday. He is drawing energy from boisterous crowds, some of whose participants said in interviews that they had only recently come around to Romney because he seems like the party’s best bet to beat President Obama.
Romney asked Iowa voters Thursday to weigh their choices carefully.
“I hope as you look at the people running, you can measure their capacity to lead effectively and you can also determine whether they can become our nominee and defeat President Obama,” Romney told 400 supporters in Mason City. “I think I can.”
Romney has scheduled a statewide dash that seems to answer affirmatively the question of whether he believes he can win. He will finish his three-day bus tour at a rally Friday morning with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Then, after a 30-hour jaunt to New Hampshire, where he is working to convert a commanding lead in the polls into victory on the ground, Romney will return to Iowa with a string of rallies in the bigger cities in advance of Tuesday’s voting.