After months dancing around the question of whether to make an all-out play for Iowa, Mitt Romney is finally committing to winning the caucuses. But a top Republican official in the state’s largest county is skeptical he can make up for lost time.
“It’ll be very difficult,” Polk County GOP chair Kevin McLaughlin told TPM. “He has for too long neglected the state, so if he comes back he looks desperate, like a bad boy trying to come back to make good.”
However, he added that it wasn’t clear he has a choice but to step his game up given Newt Gingrich’s surge.
“If he doesn’t come back, hes going to continue to erode, so it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” he said. “I’ve heard supporters say they couldn’t believe he wasn’t here more often, that he wouldn’t respond to requests for appearances, etc. But if he doesn’t show up going forward I think he continues to erode. I don’t know how you get yourself out of that box.”
McLaughlin - who has not declared support for any particular candidate - says the race is still very much open as Herman Cain’s support opens up, while Ron Paul’s loyal following forms a strong ground game and Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum still work to rally social conservatives. As for Gingrich, he says while he offered up “scathing” reviews of Gingrich’s Iowa appearances in his county this summer, where he came across as “arrogant,” the candidate has improved since then and has voters abuzz over his debate appearances.
“I think he’s been through a metamorphosis, he’s literally crashed and burned and raised himself from the ashes,” he said. “The simplest and best [explanation], is it’s no longer about him, it’s about us and about this country,” he said.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.