DES MOINES, Iowa -- As Mitt Romney heads to Iowa on Friday for his fourth trip to the state since October and outside backers blitz the TV airwaves, the former Massachusetts governor might like to think he’s making a big showing here.
The current Iowa governor begs to differ.
"I don't think anybody is going to win the caucuses if they don't spend a significant time in the state, and an example of that is Romney, who hasn't spent as much time here,” Gov. Terry Branstad said in an interview on Thursday. “And his rating has slipped somewhat. He needs to spend more time here.”
In the latest CBS/New York Times poll, Newt Gingrich has surged to a double-digit lead over the better-funded, better-organized Romney. Branstad is not surprised, citing the lack of time Romney has spent on the ground in Iowa. “It’s important to be here, answer real questions,” he said. “Iowans are very serious.”
Friday will mark Romney's fourth trip to Iowa since the August straw poll. In the interim, however, he has sent surrogates and family members to represent him in the state. His son, Josh, just christened campaign headquarters in Des Moines two weeks ago, and wife Ann will be holding a "Women for Mitt" event. But Branstad doesn't see that as a way to win. “He's sent surrogates like (New Jersey) Gov. (Chris) Christie here, and I understand others. Mike Leavitt, former governor of Utah coming, Gov. (Butch) Otter from Idaho's coming - but I think he’s going to have to spend time himself, as are the other candidates if they want to do well here."
Branstad cited former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who won the 2008 Iowa caucuses, delivering a crushing blow to Romney's campaign that year. Huckabee largely appealed to evangelical Christians, who comprise a third of Iowa caucus-goers.
One of the reasons being on the ground in Iowa is so important, the five-time governor said, is so that voters can see the human nature of each candidate. "Huckabee, I think last time won because he's got a great personaliity and a great sense of humor, and it wasn't just the religious conservatives. There's a lot of people that voted for him because of that."
Branstad said he is not planning to endorse any of the candidates at this time, "mainly because I want to be a good host.... I want to make sure that it's fair for all the candidates, I want to encourage participation, I want to keep the Iowa caucuses first in the nation."