Mitt Romney is spending Friday in Iowa, the site of perhaps his biggest political humiliation three years ago -- a move that suggests his campaign hasn’t given up hope of winning there.
It was in the Iowa caucuses in January 2008 where Romney’s White House aspirations suffered a brutal wound at the hands of Mike Huckabee after he had looked the favorite in the state for months.
But Huckabee’s not around this time, and Romney doesn’t appear to be entirely writing off the state. Before arriving in Iowa for a three-city tour, his campaign announced a team of experienced hands to oversee his operations in Iowa, including Brian Kennedy, a former chair of the state Republican Party.
Earlier Friday, according to the Associated Press, Romney hedged as to whether he would support the House GOP budget that would privatize Medicare, saying that he would instead provide his own budget plan.
"That's the kind of speculation that is getting the cart ahead of the horse," he said.
He was also noncommittal about participating in the Ames Straw Poll in August. Romney won the poll last time around before falling to Huckabee in the caucuses.
A lunchtime address in Des Moines was interrupted by a fire alarm and an evacuation. Romney joked that he wasn’t trying to dodge tough questions.
And while his prospects in the state may have been momentarily buoyed by Huckabee’s decision to forgo a campaign, the news this week that Sarah Palin may be revving up a bid of her own suggests that Romney’s flirtation with Iowa could be just that. Palin likely would do well among the state’s large swath of Christian conservative voters.
Many GOP strategists believe success in Iowa makes for a poor barometer of a candidate’s chances. Indeed, Huckabee won here but soon faltered, and in the past, exotic conservatives such as Steve Forbes and Pat Robertson had done well.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad this week appealed to Romney to not skip his state
“I understand if you’re from Massachusetts, you’re at a disadvantage when you’re competing with people from neighboring states,” Branstad said of the former Massachusetts governor. “Nevertheless, I do think it’s important to compete here and maybe you don’t have to win, but doing relatively well -- and he’s considered the national front-runner, so I think being in the top three is important in Iowa.”
Branstad and Romney talked by phone later in the week.
Regardless, most signs indicate that Romney is centering his campaign on winning the New Hampshire primary. He’s to make what is perhaps the least dramatic political announcement in recent times there next week, when he formally declares for president.
But Romney may have a new headache there as well: A new CNN poll shows that Rudy Giuliani has a strong base of support among prospective GOP voters. Reports this week have had the former New York City mayor toying with the idea of another run. If Giuliani were to get in, he, like Romney, would target New Hampshire, as well as other states such as Florida that Romney is counting on.
For a short time after Huckabee’s announcement (as well as the exit of Mitch Daniels from the field), it appeared that Romney might have a relatively smooth glidepath toward the GOP nomination. But given the sudden interest telegraphed by Palin and Giuliani -- as well as wishful speculation swirling around the likes of Chris Christie, Rick Perry, and Paul Ryan -- it’s clear that few believe Romney is a lock, in New Hampshire or anywhere else.