When media outlets like NBC moved Iowa to lean Obama in mid-September I was beyond dubious. The race in the Hawkeye state looked air tight to me and I expected it to remain that way through election day. This intriguing piece indicates Iowa was slipping out of reach for Romney until the first debate. Plenty of interesting nuggets in this great Scott Conroy piece over at Real Clear Politics:
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.
Failing to mind the gap
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.
The debate that changed everything
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.”
Minding the gap and then some
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.
Expanding the Iowa map
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.
Driving the base
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.”
Reaching new voters
Indeed, The Des Moines Register’s backing of Romney this past weekend came as a surprise to just about everyone in Iowa politics. 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…[D]espite 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.
Polk County FTW?
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.