Mitt Romney, who plowed $10 million into Iowa in his last presidential election only to come in second in the 2008 caucus, has been treading carefully in the state this time around. He campaigns there, now and then. He dribbles out endorsements. He even unleashes statewide attacks on a rival, as he did in a telephone town-hall meeting on Thursday that assailed Rick Perry as soft on illegal immigration.
Tied in the polls with Herman Cain, who also has spent limited time in the state, Romney plans to campaign Monday in Dubuque and Davenport. Which begs the question: How much longer before he's expected to win the Jan. 3 caucus?
The answer: As long he leads in New Hampshire.
Romney's sizable edge in New Hampshire of 20-plus percentage points protects him from losing the Iowa expectations game. He could win the nation's first nominating contest in Iowa but he doesn't have to win the caucus in order to remain in the running. As long as he still has a path to the nomination by winning New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary, Romney can keep toying with expectations in Iowa.