SIOUX CITY, Iowa – In January 2008, Barack Obama’s campaign aides furiously refreshed the Des Moines Register’s Web site looking for its poll a few days before the Iowa caucuses. When the poll came up showing Obama moving into a lead over Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Obama staffers hugged each other, screamed and popped champagne.
It seemed like a similar scene might be playing out on Saturday night, in a hotel lobby here, where Mitt Romney’s campaign brain trust huddled with a few reporters and refreshed the Register’s Web site and Twitter streams on their iPads and iPhones.
But at 7 p.m. central time, when the poll came out showing Romney holding onto his lead here, there were no hugs between Romney’s chief strategist, Stuart Stevens, his Iowa strategist David Kochel, and the candidate’s best friend, Bob White. They didn’t pop any champagne. Indeed, they said nary a word.
This, of course, is the Romney ethos: all business all the time. And in this case, they say, the business is winning not the Iowa caucuses but the more than 1,100 convention delegates required to secure the Republican nomination.
But that doesn’t mean Romney himself wasn’t a bit giddy on this New Year’s Eve. An hour before the poll results were known, as Romney strode into the Stoney Creek Inn to speak to voters, he had his classic campaign trail humor on full display.
“We should have rented a bigger room,” Romney proclaimed, looking out at a couple of hundred folks in an overflow space. “Oh, my goodness. What a sight this is. Oh, this is so much fun.”
“You’re so kind to spend New Year’s Eve with me,” Romney continued. “We’re gonna spend the whole night here, dancing away!… Oh, my gosh, this is wonderful.”
“What do you have planned later?” Romney asked.
“Not much,” people in the crowd responded.
“I hope I’m not the highlight of the evening,” Romney told them. “That’d be a pretty sad evening.”
Romney, for his part, planned to fly back to Des Moines to spend the evening with his wife, Ann. Earlier Saturday in Le Mars, he told reporters he was considering going to a concert.
“I looked at the Web site to see what’s going on in Des Moines over New Year’s Eve and there’s a celebration of the music of the Doors at a place called… it is the Brickyard, I think,” Romney told reporters. “So we’ll see if we go there or just hang out in the lobby of the hotel. Not sure yet.”
When one reporter asked if he was a fan of the Doors, Romney said: “I enjoy their music.”
In Sioux City, Romney delivered his standard stump speech and then took a few questions from the crowd. The first came from a young man who asked about the $10,000 bet Romney tried to make with Texas Gov. Rick Perry at a debate a few weeks ago. The man said that gambling over $5,000 is a “Class C felony” in the state and suggested that Romney may have been breaking a racketeering law.
“Okay,” Romney said, cutting him off. “Let’s find another question that’s a serious question.”
A few minutes later, a young woman raised her hand and said she had a serious question.
“My mom bought me those Pop Rock things,” she said. “If you become president, I want you to bring those back. Those were good.”
A bemused Romney told her: “Thank you. Thank you. I used to remember those. It’s been a long time since I’ve had Pop Rocks.”
“You know, there are a lot of things I could blame on the president, but I’m not going to blame him for getting rid of Pop Rocks,” Romney said playfully. “I’m afraid the market just wasn’t there.”