After a recent visit to and a few robocalls in the state that derailed his 2008 campaign, Mitt Romney is now shifting fully into contesting the Iowa caucuses. "We're going to be in Iowa enough to show that Mitt Romney is the best candidate to take on President Obama … As for a strategy, our strategy is to win there," a Romney spokeswoman said according to the Huffington Post. "Our strategy is to—we're going to get people out to the caucuses." It's still unclear exactly what form this new engagement in Iowa will take, but he recently opened a new campaign headquarters in Des Moines and should begin airing TV commercials in the near future.
Romney's strategy for 2012 until now has been to invest everything in New Hampshire, notch a dominating win there, and use that to steamroll past the other candidates as the contest widens in early March. So far, it seems to be working; Romney has held a comfortable lead in New Hampshire polls all year. But it's still a tenuous plan. That 18-point lead Romney currently averages in New Hampshire? At this point four years ago he had a similar 14-point advantage over Rudy Giuliani, which slowly evaporated in late December and collapsed after Romney posted disappointing results in Iowa. But even if his New Hampshire lead were to remain steady into the primaries, if Romney loses the Iowa caucuses, which take place before the New Hampshire primary, the front-runner there would gain a groundswell of support. It would set up a prolonged one-on-one campaign before Romney could take the nomination, possibly opening fissures in his frontrunner status once the dispersed social conservatives have only an alternative candidate. Competing in, and possibly winning Iowa would allow Romney to deliver a knockout punch so that he could shift gears into the general election by early spring.
There's a little over a month left before Iowans vote for their preferred Republican candidate, leaving Romney little time to win over those Iowans disappointed by his lack of interest in visiting the Midwestern state so far this year. All of the candidates have been relatively quiet in the early states compared to last cycle, so if Romney floods the airwaves with ads and makes a few high-profile visits, he could quickly build the image of the invested candidate at a lower cost than the $10 million he spent on Iowa last go round. And though social conservatives still rule the narrative of Iowa Republicans, there is a class of more moderate Iowa Republicans that Romney can easily appealing to, and their ranks have only grown since he placed second at the 2008 caucuses. Still, he will need to break off at least a few of those evangelical social conservatives that went for Mike Huckabee in 2008 if Romney hopes to finish first in Iowa. He'll need to keep tacking to the right in that case, most likely on immigration as that could prove to be the biggest stumbling block for his two main challengers—Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich.