GOP Sees Path Emerging for Romney Win in Iowa

By Scott Conroy - October 31, 2012

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In spite of the kerfuffle that resulted from the Obama campaign’s original stipulation that the paper’s editorial board interview the president off the record, there was little reason to believe that the state’s most widely circulated newspaper would back a Republican presidential candidate for the first time since 1972.

The endorsement came as a pleasant shock to Iowa Republicans, who had become well-practiced over the years in arguing that newspaper endorsements don’t matter.

Still, despite the Register’s reach and the high regard with which its political coverage continues to earn, there is little question that its influence has waned.

But taken in combination with endorsements by Iowa’s three other major dailies -- The Cedar Rapids Gazette, Quad Cities Times, and Sioux City Journal -- Romney’s ability to win over top opinion-makers in the state is emblematic of a remarkable turnaround, especially given the tsunami of positive media coverage Obama enjoyed here four years ago.

“Momentum is with Romney now,” said Iowa House Majority Leader Linda Upmeyer, adding that the newspaper endorsements “can’t hurt and might help.”

Iowa GOP operative Chuck Laudner was more buoyant about what the Register’s endorsement signaled.

“It punctuates Obama’s poor campaign effort here and Mitt’s obvious momentum,” he said. “The entire Republican ticket is gaining statewide. In a sense, the Register’s endorsement says, ‘It must be over if even the Register picks Mitt.’ ”

But even Iowa Republicans who are most convinced that the tide has turned admit that Obama’s extensive ground operation here -- which never left and has been growing steadily since early 2007 -- remains a powerful weapon for the president.

Romney has nothing in place that comes close to matching Obama’s micro-targeting get-out-the-vote machine, which one state Republican described as “startling in its attention to detail.”

Still, the latest RCP Average of Iowa polls shows Obama holding on to a lead of just one point in the state. And in a “state of the race” email to supporters on Monday, Bill Burton of the Obama’s Priorities USA super PAC wrote that the contest there is “a dead heat,” with the president ahead also by a single point in the group’s latest internal poll.

Perhaps the area of the state that each campaign will pay closest attention to heading toward Election Day is Polk County -- the most populous of Iowa’s 99 counties and home of the capital, Des Moines.

Romney strategists believe that the Republican can lose Polk County and still carry the state, but they must keep Obama’s margins down in the capital region. That’s one reason they dispatched Ann Romney to Des Moines on Tuesday evening, where the former first lady of Massachusetts hosted the first Romney rally since the campaign suspended all of its overtly political events in light of the devastation from Hurricane Sandy in the mid-Atlantic area.

Vice President Joe Biden will be close on her heels when he arrives in Iowa on Thursday for rallies in Muscatine and Fort Dodge. 

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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