Sara Palin and Chris Christie are out. The GOP field is settled, and Mitt Romney is looking to secure his status as frontrunner – even here in Iowa.
Several heavyweight Republican donors pledged their support to Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, after Christie announced he would not run earlier this week. But many conservatives, in Iowa and elsewhere, are still waiting for a more a right-leaning alternative — boosting Herman Cain’s poll numbers, and watching to see if Texas Gov. Rick Perry can recover from his poor debate performances.
This week, Romney’s wife of 40 years is campaigning for her husband in Iowa, a state he has shunned for much of the race, an indication, activists say, that Romney in seeking a toehold here.
“It’s wonderful to be here. Iowa is important. We love the people of Iowa,” Anne Romney told a gathering of GOP supporters in Bittendorf, Iowa.
“Mitt’s in Florida right now and I’m here. That’s just the nature of politics, of presidential politics. It is a very big country and before you know it these caucuses are going to happen,” she said.
Mitt Romney was actually campaigning Thursday in South Carolina not Florida.
“We know a lot of you were helpful last time. So we’re asking you not just to take yourself, but your neighbor, and your friends and church friends and anyone else you got that you can take to those caucuses and send a message that Iowa still remembers us,” Anne Romney said.
For those doubting Romney will campaign in Iowa, his wife was emphatic: “Mitt will be here.”
“Iowa is important,” Ann Romney told supporters in Bettendorf, Iowa Thursday.
“Send a message,” she added, “that Iowa still remembers us.” Further boosting Romney’s chances was Wednesday’s decision by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to skip entering the 2012 sweepstakes. Romney was the leading second choice candidate for voters who said Palin was their first choice, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll.
“The monkey wrench in the philosophy that Romney will pick up votes is Herman Cain. They’re talking about him in Iowa. He’s got a plan for the budget, a plan for tax reform,” Mac McDonald, Blackhawk, Iowa County Republican chair, told ABC News.
“Iowa is a state that people want to look you in the eye and shake your hand,” he said. Romney, he said, needed to spend more time in the state, but added he had a strong following that remained from his 2008 campaign.
“He’s got a contingency here from the last time. He spent a lot of time and money before the caucus. He’s got a chance here,” he said. According to that same ABC News/Washington Post poll Romney’s numbers have remained the same, at around 25 percent.
But supporters say Romney’s numbers are impressive given the size of the pool and Iowa is still very much in play for him.
“If the field stays through the caucuses and primaries stays at four or five candidates, 25 percent is pretty good,” said Iowa State Rep. Renee Schulte, Romney’s state co-chair.
“The field is set,” she said. “I know the Romney camp has been slow and steady in Iowa, that’s been the course. That won’t change.”