A few weeks ago, after it was announced that both John McCain and Rudy Giuliani were not going to be participating in the Iowa Straw Poll, Mitt Romney’s campaign decided to scale back its own operations in the state:
“I think initially we planned to bring in a very large number of folks from across the state for the straw poll,” Romney told reporters. “We’ve cut back on our target from that standpoint to a level where we think we can win, but we’re not trying to overwhelm anybody.”
Romney said it is important to keep showing his commitment to the straw poll and “engage our base of supporters so that by the time the caucus comes along we’ll have our structure in place and our team members that are tried and tested.
“But we have pulled back the level of investment financially that we’re making, in part, to recognize that Mayor Giuliani and Sen. McCain have decided not to participate, and apparently Sen. Thompson as well.”
Romney said the straw poll is “not going to be as intense of an event as it would have been had the other front-runners decided to participate.”
If that is indeed that case, Romney sure had a strange concept of “pulling back the level of investment” his campaign planned to make in the winning the poll, reportedly outbidding his rivals for on a prime location for his tent, sending out expensive mailings, and spending millions on television ads and other material. As the Wall Street Journal reports:
Mr. Romney is marshalling a massive show of strength in hopes of not just winning but winning big. It’s part of his effort to cement a growing perception among party activists and donors that he’s the most driven and best organized in a crowded field of Republican candidates. The former venture-capital executive hopes his campaign’s reputation for ruthless business efficiency will show Republicans he could assemble the best machine to defeat the Democratic nominee next November.
It seems no detail is too small, or price too high, for Mr. Romney. His campaign plunked down $25,000 for a prime spot to pitch his tent at the polling center on the campus of Iowa State University, about $10,000 more than other campaigns paid. In his tent, supporters will feast on barbecue from Hickory Park, a well-known restaurant in Ames.
Mr. Romney’s Sioux County campaign chairman, Orange City council member Mick Snieder, said he’s made about 2000 phone calls in his 29,000-population county, urging Republicans to support Mr. Romney. In the past month, he says he’s made about 500 calls specifically to recruit voters in the straw poll.
The result: About 100 Romney supporters from Sioux County are boarding two buses for a 3½-hour ride to Ames on Saturday. On the buses, they will be handed Romney campaign T-shirts to wear during the polling.
His latest television ad shows a bus traveling down a rural road through green, presumably Iowan, fields, as a phone number flashes across the screen for supporters to sign up for the Ames straw poll.
Mr. Romney also is running a frenetic schedule of town-hall type meetings billed as “Ask Mitt Anything.” Yesterday, he fit in six of the events around Iowa. At the gatherings, his staff handed out orange cards asking supporters to register for the straw poll.
The Romney campaign won’t say how much it is spending on Ames. The campaign is paying political consulting company Capital Resources Inc. about $200,000 to coordinate logistics for the event, said people with knowledge of the campaign. And bus company Windstar Lines in Carroll, Iowa, will act as a central dispatcher for the about 130 to 150 buses the campaign has reserved to ferry supporters to the poll. Organizers at other campaigns said buses cost $900 to $3,000, depending on whether they can be hired locally.
Not surprisingly, Romney’s heavy investment paid off, though it should be noted that this sort of overkill is becoming something of a pattern with the Romney campaign, as he has pulled similar stunts on a least two separate occasions: first at the Conservative Political Action Conference and again at a straw poll in South Carolina.