DES MOINES, Iowa — To some residents of this crucial early caucus state, he’s been the absentee front-runner, largely avoiding Iowa as he focuses his energies elsewhere. But today, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney drops by for a rare visit ahead of Thursday’s Republican presidential debate.
Hopefully he packed a suit of armor. He'll need it to defend against what will almost certainly be a barrage of attacks from rivals who have not had a chance to confront him directly in a setting like this since June.
Romney has not spent the summer attending an endless series of campaign events like many of his fellow contenders (he’s been concentrating on fundraising) and he’s taken heat for staying a little too above-the-fray on important national issues. (He didn’t take a position on the debt ceiling deal, for example, until the last-minute.)
He’s also largely avoided the highways and dusty country roads of Iowa that candidates like Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Herman Cain have been crisscrossing for weeks. Romney’s last visit to Iowa was in May.
Pawlenty was asked earlier this week whether he thought Romney had essentially been given a free pass this summer while others were been battling in the campaign trenches.
“Mitt and Jon and others have made the decision to not participate — not participate fully in this phase of the campaign in Iowa,” Pawlenty said, referring to Romney and Jon Huntsman. “That comes with some advantages, I suppose for them, but it also comes with some disadvantages.”
Disadvantage number one, of course, is that Romney will inevitably have to field the question — both on the stump and at the debate — about how seriously he is taking Iowa and why voters here haven’t seen much of him.
That’s not to say that Romney doesn’t have a network of eager volunteers and a reservoir of support here. He has a small paid staff — just three people — a far cry from his 2007 primary effort. That year Romney spent hugely in the weeks leading up to the Ames Straw Poll, busing in supporters and plying them with Hickory Park barbeque. Those efforts catapulted him to a first place finish at the Ames contest, but did not translate to a win in the 2008 Iowa Caucuses.
Romney’s approach this time around has led some to say that his team is running a “stealth campaign” in the Hawkeye State. His Iowa operatives insist that there is nothing stealth about their efforts, but rather, since Romney is not formally competing in the straw poll (though his name is on the ballot) they did not have to rev up the engine of a campaign organization with the same intensity they did four years ago.
Romney plans to hold a roundtable with local business leaders at the Vermeer Corporation, a manufacturing company, in Pella, Iowa today. This evening he will attend a fundraiser for the Polk County Republican Party in Des Moines. On Thursday morning, he plans to stop by the Iowa State Fair and speak at the Des Moines Register “soapbox.”
As he travels the state today and tomorrow, here’s one more question Romney is going to have to answer: How big of a threat is Rick Perry? We’ll let you know what he says.
RICK PERRY: GOIN’ TO CAROLINA (AND NEW HAMPSHIRE …. AND IOWA). The Texas gobvernor is set to make a sweeping trip through three critical early states — Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — in the span of two days as his likely presidential campaign begins this weekend, ABC’s Arlette Saenz reports. Perry will start on Saturday in Charleston, S.C. where he will make clear his presidential intentions before moving up the East Coast to a house party with Granite State Republicans in New Hampshire. Sunday, the Texas governor makes the trek to Iowa, just one day after the Ames Straw Poll, to give a speech in Waterloo — the hometown of Michele Bachmann. Perry, a fifth-generation Texan and the longest serving governor in the country, will introduce himself on the national scene as he shakes up the entire race with these quick trips to states where other presidential contenders have dedicated months to campaigning.
Meanwhile, back in the Lone Star state, Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Tex., is set to lead the charge against Perry, specifically taking aim at his $4 billion in cuts to education funding this year. “I’m eager to see that he does not mess with America the way he has messed with Texas,” Doggett told ABC News. “Over the long haul, Texas will not be competitive if it does not have a strong educational system from pre-k to post grad, and Governor Perry has started the process of weakening that system.” http://abcn.ws/oSN5zQ
PAWLENTY ON OBAMA: ‘STICK A FORK IN HIM’ — ‘HE’S DONE’ Both Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty appeared last night at the Humboldt County Republicans' picnic in Humboldt, Iowa, a small town a few hours northwest of Des Moines. Just after Bachmann had fired up a large raucous crowd outside, Pawlenty gave a more subdued speech indoors, but one that included some stinging shots directed at President Obama. ABC News’ Matthew Jaffe was there: "Look, you can almost stick a fork in him. I think he's about done politically," Pawlenty said. "His numbers nationally are bad. You look at his numbers in the swing states that are going to really decide the election like Iowa and among independents, his numbers are awful." The former Minnesota governor didn't stop there either, reprising one of his favorite comparisons for the president by likening him to "a manure spreader in a windstorm." http://abcn.ws/rkZ9y5
@ErinMcPike: I need to write a campaign diary about my day with TPaw in Iowa… You wouldn't believe how much off-roading I've done. And met roosters.
NOT GOING THERE: BACHMANN CAMP ON NEWSWEEK COVER. Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann delivered her standard stump speech in the lakefront town of Arnolds Park, Iowa on Tuesday afternoon even as a controversy over her depiction on the cover of Newsweek magazine swirled around her. Bachmann did not address the cover photo, which shows a wide-eyed Bachmann above the headline “The Queen Of Rage.” Her spokeswoman Alice Stewart offered this statement to ABC News: “We’re just not going to address that,” Stewart said. “We’re focused on what’s important, which is meeting with the people of Iowa in advance of the straw poll.” http://abcn.ws/o68fKL
ABC’s Sharyn Alfonsi took a closer look at the Newsweek cover photo on “World News” last night. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/qfZAC2
SANTORUM TAKES ON PERRY, BACHMANN. Presidential candidate Rick Santorum pens this Op-Ed criticizing some of his fellow Republicans who he says “have seemingly washed their hands of the value and importance of marriage.” Here’s an excerpt: “When asked about New York State’s new law recognizing homosexual marriage, Texas Governor Rick Perry recently told an audience in Aspen, Colorado: ‘Our friends in New York six weeks ago passed a statute that said marriage can be between two people of the same sex. And you know what? That's New York, and that's their business, and that's fine with me.’ Governor Perry later attempted to clear up his statement saying, ‘I probably needed to add a few words after that ‘it’s fine with me,’ and that it’s fine with me that a state is using their sovereign rights to decide an issue. Obviously gay marriage is not fine with me.’ By taking refuge behind “states’ rights” as it relates to moral wrongs, the definition of marriage then becomes subject to fifty different interpretations and versions. What’s even worse is for one to say you fundamentally disagree with homosexual marriage but then claim you don’t have the right or will to fight it. Governor Perry is not alone. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann also characterized what New York has done as an issue for each state when she said: ‘I'm running for the presidency of the United States. And I don't see that it's the role of a president to go into states and interfere with their state laws.’ … These positions are deeply troubling for the Republican Party and the country. Consigning these moral issues strictly to local decision-making runs contrary to the positioning of our party’s founding and to Abraham Lincoln’s philosophy that there is no moral right to enact a major social and moral wrong.”
THE NOTE ON THE ROAD: All week ABC News reporters are on the campaign trail in the Hawkeye State, keeping an eye on the candidates and talking to Iowa voters along the way. ABC will offer complete coverage of Thursday’s Republican presidential debate and Saturday’s Straw Poll in Ames. ABC News will be broadcasting a special edition of “This Week” from Iowa, the day after the Ames Straw Poll anchored by ABC’s Jake Tapper. Keep up with our regular dispatches from the road on ABC.com’s Note blog: http://blogs.abcnews.com/thenote/
THE 700 CLUB. It’s about to get very crowded in the Hawkeye State: “The Iowa Republican Party gave out a record-setting number of media credentials for the Iowa GOP straw poll in Ames, a fact that might even be more enticing to White House hopefuls than whatever the final ballot count might be,” according to the Quad-City Times’ Mike Wiser. “Party officials say they've credentialed roughly 700 members of the media for Saturday's festivities at the Hilton Coliseum on Iowa State University campus. That's about 200 more than the previous record set four years ago when 500 credentials were given out, but whether that speaks to intense interest in the event, a proliferation of who or what kind of organization is defined ‘media,’ or some other explanation is hard to determine. ‘We're still working on getting everything put together,’ said Casey Mills, who handled credentialing for the Iowa Republican Party and who was sorting and printing credentials Tuesday.” http://bit.ly/nQbLO6
IOWA STATE FAIR: LIKE BUTTAH. Today is the opening day of the Iowa State Fair, an annual event that runs until Aug. 21 and has become a mecca for strange fried foods (think Oreos) as well as potential presidential candidates. They will all stop by the fair while they are in town this week. But the AP’s Michael J. Crumb reports on the real draw for fair-goers. “Life-size butter sculptures of everything from cows to space heroes and Hollywood stars are among the most beloved traditions of state fairs, drawing thousands of admirers each year from Iowa to Ohio and as far south as Texas. In Iowa, where the tradition started, the fair will celebrate the 100th year of its butter cow when it begins Thursday. While other state fairs may mimic the butter cow or tout other creamy creations, none has gained as much fame as the original, Iowa State Fair President Gary Slater said. ‘None of the others have become that one thing that when you think of the fair, you think of it like you do here at the Iowa State Fair,’ Slater said. ‘It's become our icon.’” http://bit.ly/ppqgD0
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Rick Klein and John Berman hear from Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., about the recall elections that took place in her state last night. Democrats had hoped to take control of the Senate, but they gained just two seats, leaving the majority in Republican hands. Later on the show, Republican Duane Sand joins “Top Line” via Skype to discuss his run for a North Dakota Senate seat. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://abcn.ws/toplineliveabc
“TOP LINE” REPLAY: Christian Broadcasting Network political reporter David Brody told ABC’s “Top Line” what it would be like if — or really when — Rick Perry enters the presidential race. “I like to think of this as Goldilocks and the three Evangelicals,” Brody said. “There are three main ones main contenders and you have Goldilocks who's kind of sampling the porridge. In other words Goldilocks the voter you know, 'is Michele Bachmann too hot?' I don't mean physically — I'm talking about in terms of her rhetoric. 'Is Tim Pawlenty too cold? Does he not come across as exactly someone who’s going to pump up the crowd? Or is Rick Perry a guy that may be just right because he has the executive experience in Texas as the governor with the credentials to match?’” http://abcn.ws/qKIX1N
HONORING THE FALLEN. In case you missed it, ABC’s Jake Tapper report on President Obama’s trip to Dover Air Force Base yesterday to pay his respects to the U.S. servicemen killed this weekend in Afghanistan. http://abcn.ws/p1dIFp
BLOOMBERG: ‘WE HAVE TO GET BEHIND THE PRESIDENT’ The majority of Americans say that the president doesn’t deserve another term – but for Mayor Mike Bloomberg that doesn’t matter. “For better or worse no matter what your political persuasion is, the president is our president. We have to get behind the president,” he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” today. “He is the one that leads congress, he is the one that sets the policies, he is the one that represents the country around the world and he needs our support.” http://abcn.ws/o137q7
GOP HOLDS ON IN WISCONSIN. “Two Republican state senators lost their seats in recall elections around Wisconsin on Tuesday, but Republicans maintained their control of the State Senate, ultimately handing a defeat to union groups and Democrats who had spent months and millions of dollars trying to wrestle away at least some of the state’s political power,” reports The New York Times’ Monica Davey. “The outcome was seen as a victory for Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican whose move to curtail collective bargaining rights for public workers this year set off a firestorm of protests, then counterprotests and finally a summer of unprecedented recall efforts. Although two of the Republicans — Senators Dan Kapanke of La Crosse and Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac — were removed by Democratic challengers on Tuesday before the ends of their terms in office, Republicans still hold a majority — now 17 to 16 — over Democrats in the Senate. Until Tuesday, Republicans had dominated with a 19 to 14 majority, but with six recall elections in a single day, the damage for Republicans could have been far worse, and Democrats and some national labor groups had hoped it would be. Two Senate Democrats also face recall elections next week — one more chapter in the same collective bargaining rights battle — but given the results on Tuesday, those races now cannot affect which party controls the State Senate, the question that had always been the ultimate concern on both sides. If anything, Republicans could now increase their hold next week.” http://nyti.ms/qe0gJD
OBAMA’S JOBS PIVOT. “President Barack Obama’s latest campaign for a jobs agenda faces Republican opposition in Congress and may offer limited potential for short-term employment growth even where partisan agreement is within reach,” writes Bloomberg News’ Mike Dorning. “In an Aug. 8 White House address on the Standard & Poor’s downgrade of the U.S. credit rating, Obama highlighted his renewed focus on employment, calling jobs and the economy ‘the most immediate concern of most Americans’ and investors. That concern was underlined yesterday when the Federal Reserve pledged to keep its benchmark interest rate at a record low at least through mid-2013 in a bid to revive the recovery, citing in part a ‘deterioration in overall labor market conditions’ in recent months. That means Obama will be seeking re-election at a time of projected sluggish growth. To spur hiring, the White House is considering new proposals such as incentives for employers to hire workers, including a cut in the payroll tax for employers, said a person familiar with the discussions. One idea being examined to bolster the housing market would be to rent rather than sell foreclosed properties held by government-sponsored mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the person said.” http://bloom.bg/qJP9yx
RISE OF THE SUPER PACS. “First came American Crossroads, Commonsense Ten and their ilk — so-called ‘super PACs’ set up with unlimited cash that poured millions of dollars into ads benefiting multiple candidates and attacking their opponents,” Politico’s Ken Vogel notes. “Now comes the next generation of this new breed of fundraising committees — super PACs created to boost individual presidential candidates, and to strip the bark off their rivals. They’re already showing signs that they could reshape the presidential campaign landscape in 2012. A super PAC created to advance Mitt Romney’s campaign for the GOP nomination raised $12.2 million in the first half of the year. One set up to help President Barack Obama spent $97,000 on ads attacking Romney. Supporters of Texas Rep. Ron Paul’s dark horse Republican bid are using a super PAC to pay for $6,000-worth of billboards and print ads ahead of the Ames straw poll. And one of the half-dozen super PACs established to bolster Texas Gov. Rick Perry in his yet-to-be-declared campaign for the GOP nomination is airing ads in Iowa calling him ‘a better option for president.’ ‘You can be sure that we haven’t seen the last of these things, whether it’s this cycle or some future cycle, unless the legal climate changes,’ said Michael Malbin, executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute, a non-profit, non-partisan group that tracks political fundraising data and trends. ‘You can’t expect candidates not to take advantage of something like this when their opponents are.’” http://politi.co/nY42Fm
HUNTSMAN GETS JEB BUSH JR. “Jeb Bush Jr., the son of former Florida governor Jeb Bush Sr. and nephew to President George W. Bush, endorsed Jon Huntsman today, ABC’s Sarah Kunin reports: Bush Jr. took to Huntsman’s H-Blog before the Coral Gables event to reveal his new position as Nation Chairman of GenH, the campaign’s new youth and young professional outreach program. Huntsman is also gaining the support of Ana Navarro, a Florida GOP activist, who will become Huntsman’s National Hispanic Chairperson. “In 2008, Florida and the presidency went to Barack Obama because he offered hope,” Bush wrote. “To defeat the President in 2012, we need a candidate who will offer solutions. That man is Jon Huntsman.” While the Bush name certainly carries some weight in the Sunshine State, and Jeb Jr. may help garner the important Latino vote as the chairman of Hispanic outreach group SunPAC, many believe it isn't exactly major.
NOTED: CALL FOR INTERNS. The Note and the ABC Political Unit are in the market for interns for the Fall of 2011. We require actively enrolled students and we prefer applicants who are spending the semester in DC and can commit a regular 9-5 schedule. E-mail a resume and cover letter to Zachary.B.Wolf@abc.com
(all times local)
* Mitt Romney holds a business round table talk about the economy in Pella Iowa at noon. At 5:45 p.m., Romney attends the Polk County Republicans fundraiser in Des Moines.
* Tim Pawlenty holds a meet-and-greet in Adel, Iowa at 8 a.m. At 10 a.m., he attends a meet-and-greet in Winterset. At 12:30 p.m., Pawlenty stops by a town hall meeting in Atlantic. In the afternoon he attends town halls in Harlan and Denison, before heading to a rally in Ames at 7 p.m.
* Michele Bachmann holds an employee roundtable at Competitive Edge in Clive, Iowa at 11:15 a.m.
* Jon Huntsman announces the endorsement of Jeb Bush Jr. at 11:15 a.m. in Coconut Grove, Fla.
* Ron Paul speaks at a meet-and-greet in Mason City, Iowa. The event will start at 10 a.m. and feature his son, Rand Paul. At noon, Both Ron and Rand Paul will head to Waterloo for another meet-and-greet, followed by another at 3 p.m. in Cedar Rapids. That father-son duo will also speak at a meet-and-greet in Des Moines at 7 p.m.
* Rick Santorum participates in an event with FRC Action in Cedar Rapids, Iowa at 8:30 a.m. At 10 a.m., Santorum hosts a town hall meeting in Anamosa. He addresses the Cedar Rapids Rotary Club at noon at a luncheon, and at 2 p.m., Santorum hosts a town hall meeting in Hiawatha as part of his Santorum Family Tour.
* Herman Cain stops at City Park Bandshell in Clear Lake, Iowa at 8:30 a.m. before heading to the Forster Building in Rock Rapids at 3 p.m. Cain also attends the Dickinson County GOP Picnic in Okoboji at 5:30 p.m. as part of his Common Sense Solutions Bus Tour.
The Note Futures Calendar: http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV
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