Republican and Democratic big hitters campaign in Iowa, but Romney a notable absentee.

Just over a month before the Iowa caucus, Mitt Romney has opened an Iowa campaign office. Romney has recruited five paid staffers in the state as well as volunteers. Romney’s decision to open an office comes long after many of his GOP counterparts laid groundwork in Iowa. Rep. Michele Bachmann and businessman Herman Cain both opened headquarters in the state in July. Ron Paul set up an office in May, Sen. Rick Santorum in June and Gov. Rick Perry in October. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich plans to announce his Iowa staff and headquarters soon.

Romney has made just three trips to Iowa since announcing his candidacy in June, and is scheduled to make another one this week. His effort in the state has been vastly reduced compared to that in 2008, when the candidate spilled millions into his campaign effort to come in second to Gov. Mike Huckabee.

The other Republican presidential candidates seeking to become the main alternative to Mitt Romney in Iowa spoke to 3,000 conservatives gathers at a Des Moines church yesterday attacking the Occupy Wall Street movement amongst other things.

The Democrats not to be out done and ramping up President Obama’s campaign mode sent out Chicago mayor, and former White House Chief of Staff – Rahm Emanuel for the annual Democratic fundraising dinner also in Des Moines. Emanuel called for President Obama’s re-election and mocked the Republican challengers saying, “The Republican event was called the “Thanksgiving Family Forum, which is fitting because I have never seen such a collection of turkeys.”

Interestingly, Emanuel kept Democratic Party efforts focussed on Mitt Romney attacking his alleged “flip-flopper” status on a series of issues mentioning his name 15 times and attempted to highlight contrasts between President Obama and Romney. Mayor Emanuel described Romney a man he sees as a calculating businessman-turned-politician, whose shifting positions on abortion, gay rights, gun control, climate change, immigration reform and health care reveal no principled core.  “Mitt Romney says he’s a man of steadiness and consistency,” Emanuel said. “And if that’s true, then I’m a linebacker for the Chicago Bears.”

Former Governor Romney was a notable absentee in Des Moines yesterday deciding to skip the Republican forum that was sponsored by a coalition of Iowa groups opposed to abortion rights and gay marriage, a gathering that offered six of his challengers a spotlight before an influential voting bloc and often consisted of each of the candidates complimenting each other.

Governor Romney was in New Hampshire yesterday for a town hall event in Peterborough promising reporters that he will be making a bigger push in Iowa. “I’ve said from the very beginning that we intend to play in Iowa, that I want to do very well there.”

Romney was coy on the exact details of his campaign strategy in Iowa saying, “It will come as no surprise to you that, in the business world and in the political world, that we tend not to reveal our strategies to our competitors, and so you’ll wait and see what we do.”

Mr. Romney reminded reporters gathered around him in the Peterborough town hall to “expect that as we get closer to the caucuses and the primaries you’ll see us visiting those early states more, spending more money there, turning out more volunteers and being more active because, as we get closer to the election, not surprisingly we want to draw people to the polls and support us.”

Mr. Romney attributed his absence at the Family Leader event to scheduling.

Romney needs to make a concerted effort in the coming weeks otherwise he may be accused of disrespecting the base by not committing or engaging in Iowa. In some respects, it appears Romney is following a more traditional campaign approach in opening an office in Des Moines and by recruiting volunteers, using phone banks and holding regular campaign events. It is clear that Romney is keen to learn from his mistakes in the 2008 campaign when he spent $10 million in an effort to win Iowa only to lose to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

The time line is shortening so it is important for Team Romney to be more visible in their efforts on the ground or face missing out on a top three spot in the Caucus. Iowa like most early states has some of the most passionate and committed supporters in any state nationally and they want their candidates to win their vote on merit, as Romney learnt to his cost in 2008 they can’t be bought.

Iowa will be very interesting and although there is much campaigning to do, I expect a surprise in the eventual result with my prediction that Rep. Ron Paul will win the caucus, with Cain, Gingrich and Santorum making up the other slots along with Romney. The only question to be decided is where will Romney come? A failure to secure a top three finish will not be a good result for his campaign to start the race for 2012 with.

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