WEST DES MOINES -- Don't assume that the hundreds of voters who have come out on a nasty, rainy, windy Friday morning to a Hy-Vee supermarket parking lot to see Mitt Romney are in the tank. Iowa voters, bless them, will rise early, drive far and endure cold to check out a candidate they may or may not vote for.
"I'd really like to look him in the eye one more time,'' said Rob Reed, 44, a chief financial officer for a non-profit, who is trying to decide between Romney and Rick Perry.
Minutes later, Romney emerged from his campaign bus and was taken aback by the crowd. "Nobody does it better than Iowa!'' Romney exclaimed. His wife, Ann, added, "You are not here for any other reason except that you love America.''
But has Romney shown Iowa the love in return? Now, with polls showing a first-place finish in reach that could set him on a glide path to the nomination, he has scheduled 10 events before Tuesday's caucus. But when victory seemed more uncertain over the past several months, Romney played it safe. The Des Moines Register's candidate tracker shows Romney has spent only 15 days in the state. The only candidate who has spent less time in Iowa is Jon Huntsman, who has made it abundantly clear that he's not even competing in the caucus. In contrast to Romney's sparse appearances, Newt Gingrich has spent 60 days in the state, while Ron Paul has spent 44 days here. The leader is Rick Santorum, with 100 days logged.
Polls show Santorum is rising, a feat he and others attribute to the dues he has paid in the state for months. One of the most important takeways from the caucus may be whether Iowa Republicans reward candidates for showing up, or if they are willing to accept a fair-weather friend like Romney.