Long considered more likely to go Democrat than Republican for president, Iowa and its six electoral votes are shaping up as a toss-up in the closing days of the campaign. A just-completed Rasmussen Poll showed that among likely voters in the Hawkeye State, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are tied with 48 percent each.
But, if volunteers and their enthusiasm truly make an impact, than the edge is to Romney. Four years after the former Massachusetts governor resoundingly lost the Iowa GOP caucuses to Mike Huckabee and 10 months after Romney was apparently edged out in the caucuses by a late-counted 30-something votes to Rick Santorum, the GOP nominee has apparently rallied most of the disparate factions behind him in an all-out effort to take Iowa.
â??Itâ??s exciting all right, and itâ??s picking up,â?ť Connie Schmett, veteran Republican operative and co-chairman of the Romney campaign in Polk County (Des Moines), told Human Events Wednesday, â??Every day, we have 40-50 volunteers knocking on doors or working phonebanks at our headquarters in Urbandale. And many are people who backed Rick Santorum or Rick Perry or other candidates over Mitt.â?ť
The most interesting group of Romney supporters, she told us, â??are the people I meant who say they have never been involved and now want to elect Mitt. Most of them are young people. And there are people I meet all the time who say they voted for Obama in â??08 and they are not going to do it again.â?ť Schmett also noted that there is a strong contingent of Roman Catholic activists for Romney â??and they always mention that they are upset by the (Health and Human Services) order requiring contraceptive coverage for (employees in Catholic hospitals).â?ť
If there is any group that has â??not come along so far,â?ť in Schmettâ??s words, it is many of those who actively backed Ron Paul. But, she quickly added, â??our campaign always talks to them, listens, and tries to win them over — whether they say they are voting for (Libertarian Party nominee) Gary Johnson or not voting. We never argueÂ — you donâ??t win people over by arguing — but we do tell them that if they donâ??t vote, it is one more vote for Barack Obama, and that makes their goals even harder to achieve.â?ť
Along with recent appearances by Paul Ryan and Ann Romney, which drew large crowds, Schmett said that Mitt Romney himself â??came to Ames last Thursday, and more than 3,500 people waited more than three hours in freezing weather to hear him. That shows you how strong feelings are running.â?ť
As to reports that Iowa is â??trending Democraticâ?ť and a Romney win would be an upset, Gentry Collins, former executive director of the state GOP, was downright dismissive.
â??Yes, Obama did carry Iowa handily in â??08, but George W. Bush won it in â??04 and barely lost it (by 4,144 votes out of 1, 270,000 cast) to Al Gore in 2000,â?ť Collins told us. â??And since â??08, Republicans gained in voter registration. Terry Branstad won the governorship in â??10 by unseating (Democratic Gov.) Chet Culver — the first time a sitting governor of Iowa was unseated since 1962.â?ť
Collins also noted that in a state â??where newspaper endorsements still count for something, the Des Moines Register endorsed Romney and this is the first time it has backed a Republican for president since 1972, The Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Sioux City Journal are also for Romney.â?ť
If Rasmussen and other pollsters are to be believed, Iowa is a genuine toss-up as of today. But, if Connie Schmett and others in the Romney team on the ground truly know the lay of the land, then the GOP nominee stands an excellent chance of repeating what George W. Bush did in Iowa in 2004.