GOP Sees Path Emerging for Romney Win in Iowa

GOP Sees Path Emerging for Romney Win in Iowa

By Scott Conroy - October 31, 2012

DES MOINES, Iowa -- A month ago, as Mitt Romney's campaign appeared to be foundering on just about every front, even allies of the Republican nominee believed his hopes for recovery to be particularly grim here in Iowa.

At the time, he was failing to generate much enthusiasm in his western Iowa stronghold, and President Obama's vaunted ground game in the state -- which had launched him toward the Oval Office in 2008 -- was humming along with an efficiency that threatened to put the state out of reach.

Particularly concerning for the Romney camp was the extent to which its internal polling showed the challenger getting blown out in Obama’s eastern Iowa strongholds of Black Hawk and Linn counties, which encompass the population hubs of Waterloo-Cedar Falls and Cedar Rapids, respectively.

Romney did not have to come close to winning in either of those counties, his team had calculated, but in order to have a shot at the Hawkeye State’s six electoral votes, he needed a respectable showing in each.

Just when many Republicans here were about to give up hope, the former Massachusetts governor squared off against Obama in the Oct. 3 debate. Overnight, this traditionally Democratic-leaning swing state became one of his most inviting targets.

“A month ago, I could hear the sounds of the Obama train steaming up and leaving the station. He was poised to pull away, which would have had impact up and down the ballot,” said longtime Iowa Republican strategist Bob Haus. “Then, a debate happened and the race was recast in 90 minutes. It's hard to tell you what an impact it had.”

Since his commanding performance in Denver, Romney has not only closed the gap somewhat in Black Hawk and Linn counties, he has seen a significant boost in the intensity of support in the dark-red, soon-to-be liquidated 5th Congressional District represented by Steve King.

In the 2012 caucuses, Rick Santorum dominated that deeply conservative western section of the state, while Romney struggled to connect with the heavily evangelical and rural population (just as he did in his 2008 caucuses loss to Mike Huckabee). But the Republican nominee now appears to have built a comfortable, double-digit lead over Obama in most of those counties, and his campaign expects turnout there to be sky-high on Nov. 6.

Perhaps even more important for Romney, internal polls have shown him closing Obama’s narrow advantage in swing voter-heavy Scott County, where the GOP standard-bearer held a rally Monday in Davenport.

In his remarks introducing Romney at that event, Iowa Republican Gov. Terry Branstad noted that he had won the county in each of his five gubernatorial campaigns and suggested that the candidate’s economic message would produce similar results on Tuesday.

Additionally, the Romney campaign believes that it is outperforming its goal in the heavily white, blue-collar counties that dot southeastern Iowa, an encouraging sign for any statewide Republican candidate.

“Our state Senate tracking polls are moving [Romney’s] way in swing districts, and the sweep of endorsements over the weekend gives him a sense of momentum,” said Iowa GOP operative Steve Grubbs. “I predict he wins Iowa.”

Indeed, The Des Moines Register’s backing of Romney this past weekend came as a surprise to just about everyone in Iowa politics.

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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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