The Danger of Skipping an Early State

Terry Branstad and Bob Vander Plaats are two Iowans who rarely find themselves in agreement. They faced off in a bitter gubernatorial primary last year, essentially dividing the states' Republican Party into two competing camps. Branstad won that primary and later the general election, while Vander Plaats turned to judicial politics and has now crafted himself into a conservative rabble-rouser for the 2012 caucuses.

Yet both found common cause in attacking Mitt Romney this week, criticizing the front-runner's decision to mostly avoid their home state. “Mitt Romney has dissed this base in Iowa and this diss will not stay in Iowa,” Vander Plaats said. “This has national tentacles. … This might prove that he is not smart enough to be president.” As the state's sitting governor, Branstad wasn't quite as direct, but expressed the same idea to Huffington Post. "I think he's going to have to put a real effort in here or he's going to be embarrassed," Branstad said. "He's trying to downplay it and keep the expectations down. … Iowa voters are spoiled by attention, and if you have a candidate who does not take them seriously, I think they'll punish him."

I've made the case before that Romney could still contend in Iowa, but only if he actually begins to feed Iowans' fickle egos by campaigning and running ads. Instead, Romney has decided to avoid Iowa's evangelical community and rely on a strong New Hampshire win to carry him to the nomination. But if all segments of Iowa's Republicans disparage Romney at any opportunity, it could begin to drag Romney down among conservative activists in other states.