After spending most of the presidential primary tamping down expectations in Iowa, Mitt Romney is cranking up his campaign efforts in the Hawkeye State, including running his first ad Thursday, almost exactly a month before Republican voters hold their first-in-the-nation caucuses.
The former Massachusetts governor also deployed one of his sons, Josh, to Des Moines on Wednesday to meet with volunteers at his campaign headquarters. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is scheduled to campaign in Iowa next week for Mr. Romney, who also plans to participate in a Dec. 10 debate at Drake University.
"In the closing weeks before the caucuses, we will continue to make the case that Mitt Romney is the best candidate to beat Barack Obama," campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in announcing the television ad. "Mitt Romney has always said that he would campaign and compete in Iowa."
The late-innings push in Iowa is a world apart from the approach the campaign took in the 2008 presidential campaign, when Mr. Romney dumped nearly $10 million into the state, including an August ad thanking Iowans for his victory at the 2007 Ames straw poll.
But that strategy — which had him sitting first in the state polls at this time in 2007 — backfired when former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee emerged victorious. The outcome, combined with Sen. John McCain's comeback victory in New Hampshire, effectively ended Mr. Romney's campaign.
This time, Mr. Romney has employed a dramatically different approach in Iowa — perhaps banking on the fact that before the campaign started the only other potential candidate with whom a lot of voters were familiar was former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who eventually opted against a bid.
He has focused more attention on New Hampshire and tried to downplay expectations in Iowa, skipping the Ames straw poll and appearing just five times in the state since entering the race. Unlike some of his early ads from 2007, when he promised to strengthen everything from the military to marriage and the border, the 30-second "The Right Answer — Iowa" ad that he released Thursday has a single focus: the economy.
"The right answer for America is to stop the growth of the federal government and start the growth of the private sector," he says in the new commercial.
Polls show him running second behind former House Speaker Newt Gingrich nationwide and in Iowa. Mr. Gingrich has taken over the mantle of conservative alternative to Mr. Romney — a role previously held by Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and businessman Herman Cain, former head of Godfather's Pizza.
Mr. Gingrich, though, is starting to get a taste of what it's like to be the GOP front-runner. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas this week blasted out a Web ad to conservatives that castigated Mr. Gingrich as a "serial" hypocrite when it comes to his position on global warming, his work on behalf of housing mortgage giant Freddie Mac and his previous support for an individual mandate in health care. On Thursday, Mrs. Bachmann piled on additional criticism in radio appearances as she tried to distance herself from Mr. Gingrich's "reluctant" support of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) and some sort of legal status for illegal immigrants with families that have deep roots in the U.S.
"I never sat on a couch with Nancy Pelosi to advocate for global warming," Mrs. Bachmann said, alluding to the 2006 commercial Mr. Gingrich made with the House speaker at the time, a Democrat, advocating for global warming awareness. "I fought against the $700 billion TARP bailout for Wall Street. I don't agree with making legal 11 million illegal aliens."
Polls also show that many voters are still up for grabs in Iowa, a group that includes Kathy Pearson, a Linn County Republican who said it is "unusual" for her to remain uncommitted so late in the game, but that the fluid nature of the contest has made it difficult to choose.
"It is very volatile with who is up and who is down," Ms. Pearson, who backed Mr. Romney in 2008, said. "For me, it makes you say, 'Well, let's see what happens here' before you make a commitment because you're not sure what the next step is."
David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, said the race is a "jumble" and reminds him of the 1980 contest that George H.W. Bush won after conservatives didn't coalesce around a candidate.
"I think the same thing could happen with Romney," said Mr. Yepsen, who spent more than three decades covering Iowa politics as a reporter. "You have conservatives chopping up their vote among several different candidates and that could enable Romney to win."
But Kevin McLaughlin, of the Polk County GOP, said that while Mr. Romney would make a better president than Mr. Obama, his latest efforts may be too little, too late.
"He has created a problem for himself that I don't know he can solve because he spent so much time here the last time he ran and he has spent so little time here this time that the contrast is stark," Mr. McLaughlin said. "So now if he shows up all over the place and is running ads and doing all this stuff at the last minute he looks desperate. That doesn't get people to respond. They feel as though they have been neglected."
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