Saturday, October 22, 2011

Will Mitt Romney Shift Resources to Iowa?

According to the latest reporting, Mitt Romney has finally begun to make appearances in Iowa, and he may be shifting resources there (e.g. hiring staff, buying TV time on Iowan stations, etc.). What does this say about the state of the 2012 Republican presidential primary, and what are the implications if Romney does focus more on Iowa?

From the beginning of the primary season, the early contests have been divided into two groups: Those perceived to be in Tea Party favorite states, and those in establishment states. Iowa represented the best hope for (potential) candidates like Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry, while New Hampshire would be won by an establishment candidate such as Romney or Chris Christie. As many of the establishment-friendly personalities dropped out of the race, New Hampshire became a stronghold for Romney. Meanwhile, Iowa became split among various Tea Party favorites--and Romney.

As Iowa polls have shown different frontrunners in that state each month, Romney has managed to hold onto a core group of voters. This has usually kept him in second place, though when Tea Party flavors-of-the-month crashed, Romney occasionally polled first. Meanwhile, Romney has enjoyed a commanding lead over all opponents in every New Hampshire poll taken this year.

In 2008, Romney learned that taking second place counts for little if you can't take first in one of the early contests. As a result, Romney has poured all of his resources into New Hampshire, guaranteeing him a win. He has avoided putting too much into Iowa, where he lost in 2008. Yet the prospect of winning Iowa must be tempting, since a Romney win in Iowa would guarantee him a swift nomination victory. If Romney has already guaranteed himself a win in New Hampshire, he has a free hand to move resources into Iowa. Over time, it will become more and more tempting.

Judging from the polls, Romney is always within striking distance of winning Iowa. If he puts resources into the state, he may increase in the polls. If he continues winning debates, he will rise even more. And in the weeks before votes are cast, a "strategic shift" will take place, with voters switching their support toward candidates they perceive as best able to defeat Barack Obama--in other words, a pro-Romney shift.

On the other hand, Romney has fared well in the Iowa polls partly due to the split among the different anti-Romney candidates. As voting day approaches, voters also shift in favor of the leading contenders. When the anti-Romney vote coalesces, it may become much more difficult for Romney to take first. If they remain divided, it will be easier. In either case, much will depend on just how effective Romney's resources are, once they are employed.