Iowa Could Decide Romney's Top Competition

Iowa Could Decide Romney's Top Competition

By Thomas Beaumont - June 16, 2011

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Welcome to the state that may decide Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney's top competition.

Rep. Michele Bachmann's entry into the campaign ensures that the spotlight will shine bright on the leadoff caucus state - and the tea party darling from Minnesota with Iowa roots - despite suggestions that Iowa's influence of the 2012 Republican presidential contest is waning. She will go head-to-head with former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty in a state he has said he must win or do very well in.

Iowa also is fertile ground for the latest Republican to say he's considering running - Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a tax-cutting social conservative.

"The goal of Iowa this time seems to be to winnow the field to see who is going to be the main challenger to Mitt Romney," said Bob Haus, a veteran Iowa Republican campaign strategist.

Republicans who compete in Iowa's February caucuses will be looking to emerge with enough momentum to mount a strong challenge to Romney in New Hampshire, where the former Massachusetts governor is focusing.

It seemed Iowa's prominence was in doubt just a week ago.

Romney made clear he would have a more limited presence in the state and would bypass its test vote - the Iowa straw poll - in August. He spent $10 million in Iowa for the 2008 race, including $1.5 million to win the 2007 straw poll, but came in second in the caucuses after failing to persuade evangelicals and social conservatives to overlook wariness of his Mormon faith and his reversals on some cultural issues.

Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor kicking off his campaign next week, also said he wouldn't compete here at all, saying his opposition to agricultural and energy subsidies was a political non-starter in this corn-growing state. His past support for same-sex civil unions and his Mormon faith could be hurdles, too.

Also, Newt Gingrich's once-promising Iowa presence turned doubtful after the former House speaker's six Iowa campaign staffers quit as part of a staff exodus. He has scrapped a planned appearance this weekend in Des Moines.

A few weeks earlier, the 2008 caucus victor, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, opted out of another run.

In that last presidential campaign, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., vastly scaled back his Iowa presence after going broke. He finished fourth in the caucuses, only to regain his footing in New Hampshire en route to winning the nomination.

For decades, Iowa has enjoyed outsized attention from national politicians because it holds the first contest in the Republican and Democratic processes to choose presidential nominees.

Iowa Republicans picked the candidates who ended up winning the nomination in 1996 and 2000. More often, the caucuses have sent would-be challengers on to New Hampshire, where they confronted the front-runners, such as in 1980 and 1988.

This year, with the election focused on the economy, Republicans in Iowa and across the nation have worried aloud that Christian conservatives, who make up the core of the caucus electorate, and a large number of campaign events sponsored by church and Christian advocacy organizations were distorting the importance of social issues and marginalizing the significance of the caucuses.

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Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.


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