Mitt Romney’s Play For Iowa (The Note)

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone) and AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter)

The calendar changed to December overnight, and just like that Mitt Romney’s campaign is getting serious about Iowa.

With roughly one month to go before the country’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, the Romney campaign has unveiled its first television advertisement in Iowa this morning touting the former Massachusetts governor’s credentials as a “conservative businessman.”

“I spent my life in the private sector. I’ve competed with companies around the world. I’ve learned something about how it is that economies grow,” Romney says in the ad, which features still images of the candidates at this summer’s Iowa state fair as well as at a recent endorsement event in the state with South Dakota GOP Sen. John Thune.

His campaign didn’t have that much to choose from. Romney has only set foot in Iowa four times since becoming a presidential candidate and, by all accounts, he’s only spent a fraction of the $10 million he invested in the state four years ago. His focus has remained on New Hampshire and other key primary states.

“Mitt Romney has always said that he would campaign and compete in Iowa,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in a statement Thursday morning. “He looks forward to participating in the two upcoming Iowa debates. Going on television is just another tool in getting Mitt Romney’s message out that Barack Obama has failed as a president, and that he is the best choice to grow the economy, cut spending and create jobs.”

The ad, titled, “The Right Answer — Iowa,” is exactly the same as one of the ads the campaign is running in New Hampshire but with more Iowa-themed background images.

Romney’s cautious approach to the state up until now appears to be giving way to a more intense effort, especially with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich now offering some late-breaking competition.

And it’s clear the Newt factor is beginning to weigh more and more heavily on the Romney campaign. As we reported yesterday, Romney called Gingrich out as a “lifelong politician” in a Fox News interview this week.

This morning, Politico reports that Team Romney is “gearing up” to challenge Gingrich “directly — and proactively.”

“They’ll point out Gingrich’s past policy shifts which can protect them from attacks against Romney’s own inconsistencies,” writes Politico’s Reid Epstein. “They’ll highlight Gingrich’s conservative apostasies as a hedge against Romney’s own moderate views. And they’ll highlight his stable family while leaving an unspoken impression about Gingrich’s two divorces.”

NEWT VS. EVERYONE. Romney’s already getting some help in defining Newt from fellow presidential Ron Paul. Paul, who is sitting in the top tier in Iowa, went up on the web yesterday with a devastating spot on the former Speaker. Jesse Benton, Paul’s campaign manager, tells ABC News that the video is being turned into a 60 second TV ad, though he also acknowledges that they haven’t yet decided if they are actually  going to air it. But the clip was enough to draw a response from Gingrich spokesman R.C Hammond last night.

“No candidate in the race has achieved more conservative reform of government or spent more time and energy championing the cause of the conservative movement than Newt Gingrich, which is why voters across the country are choosing Newt over Mitt Romney,” Hammond said in a statement.

Going negative — or, as those in the business like to say, “providing contrast” — has always been tricky. The potential for backlash is great as we’ve seen in the debates. Cain and Gingrich owe their rise in part to the fact that they’ve never engaged another candidate on stage. More on Paul’s web ad from ABC’s Jason Volack:


NEWT, MEET DONALD. ABC’s Jennifer Wlach reports: The parade of GOP candidates to Trump Tower continues. ABC News has learned that former Speaker of the House and GOP Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich will be meeting with Donald Trump at his Manhattan offices Monday, December 5th.  Regarding the upcoming meeting, Michael Cohen, Executive Vice President and Special Counsel to Mr. Trump, said, “There is no set agenda. I suspect, like the other Republican candidates, Newt will seek Mr. Trump’s advice and endorsement.”


CAIN’S ‘EXPLAIN’ TRAIN. ABC’s Huma Khan and Arlette Saenz report that Herman Cain said yesterday he will make a decision about whether to stay in the Republican presidential race in the next few days, and it would hinge on what his wife says. The former businessman took to Fox News Wednesday afternoon saying that he is reassessing his family’s feelings, but he wouldn’t answer the question of whether he will still be in the race a week from now. “A week from now, I will have made a final decision,” Cain said.

And in a press conference in New Hampshire Wednesday night, Cain noted: “I’m going to leave it with Yogi Berra’s comment.  It ain’t over till it’s over, and it ain’t over yet.” Cain told reporters that he hasn’t yet had a chance to discuss the allegations that he had a 13-year affair with an Atlanta woman with his wife. “Since I’ve been campaigning all week, I haven’t had an opportunity to sit down with her and walk through this with my wife and my family.  I will do that when I get back home on Friday,” said Cain.

Cain’s references to his family suggest it’s only a matter of time before he bows out of the race.


The Washington Post’s David A. Fahrenthold   and Sandhya Somashekhar take a closer look at the former Godfather’s Pizza CEO’s approach to handling controversy:  Faced with a critical question, Newt Gingrich often responds by criticizing the questioner. Mitt Romney reacts with a kind of gee-willikers frustration. But Herman Cain, whose problems have transfixed the Republican presidential campaign, has used a different strategy. The businessman often responds to trouble with a flat, short answer: Whatever it is, it isn’t true. His denials usually come with little or no explanation. When other candidates — not to mention economists — began to find flaws in his “9-9-9? tax plan, Cain responded, ”All those are simply not true.” … But the trouble with this tactic is that it doesn’t work if the first answer doesn’t hold up.



GOP: WAGING A PRIMARY ON THE CHEAP. Even as experts predict that the 2012 presidential race will be the most expensive in U.S. history, a funny thing is happening on the way to the Republican nomination: It’s becoming one of the cheapest primaries in a more than a decade,” reports Bloomberg’s Kristin Jensen and Jonathan D. Salant. “The top nine Republican candidates spent $53 million through September, compared with $132 million spent at the same time four years ago. The sum is even lower than totals reported during the same period in the 2004 and 2000 primaries — when most candidates still were abiding by campaign spending limits in order to receive public matching money. In the crowded Democratic primary in 2004, the candidates had spent $58 million through Sept. 30, 2003. Four years prior, a primary field of ten Republican candidates had spent $68 million in the first three quarters of 1999. One major difference is a profusion of televised debates — 11 so far — negating the need for costly commercials. ‘The debates and the daily drama of the Republican presidential primary are the new TV,’ said Ken Goldstein, president of Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group in Arlington, Virginia.”

NOTED: HOUSE WANTS TO AXE TAXPAYER FUNDING FOR PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGNS. Amid a presidential campaign cycle in which candidates are expected to raise more than $1 billion, the House of Representatives is trying to end the comparatively meager taxpayer funding for presidential campaigns,” ABC’s Amy Bingham reports. “The Republican-sponsored bill, which is expected to be debated this week, would transfer the $200 million currently sitting in the presidential fund back to the Treasury to help bring down the deficit. For the past 35 years, every major party nominee – with the exception of Barack Obama - has funded his or her general election campaign using the public money, with the caveat that they do not raise any private funds after accepting the millions in tax dollars.”

OBAMA COURTS JEWISH DONORS. A dispatch from ABC’s Devin Dwyer in New York City: During an exclusive campaign fundraiser on New York’s Upper East Side tonight, President Obama offered reassurances to some of his most loyal Jewish supporters about the administration’s commitment to Israel. Speaking about the “enormous tumult” in the Middle East brought by the Arab Spring, Obama said the U.S. stands “on the side of democracy” but remains unwavering in its support for the security of its allies. “Obviously, no ally is more important than the state of Israel,” Obama said. “This administration – I try not to pat myself too much on the back – but this administration has done more in terms of the security of the state of Israel than any previous administration,” he added.

RICK PERRY ‘POSSE’ HEADING TO IOWA. Rick Perry’s presidential campaign plans to bring more than 600 influential Texans to Iowa this month as part of a major blitz for a strong finish in the first state to vote,” reports the Dallas Morning News’ Christy Hoppe. “The massive Perry posse will include Republican elected officials such as Attorney General Greg Abbott and Comptroller Susan Combs, party stalwarts, consultants, lobbyists, business supporters and friends who will reach out to Republicans in the Hawkeye State and ask them to take a fresh look at the Texas governor. Campaign director Joe Allbaugh confirmed the move Wednesday, saying the campaign will stagger the visits but has booked 200 Iowa hotel rooms. ‘We know for sure when 600 are coming and when they’re going,’ he said.”

ABOUT THAT MIKE HUCKABEE ENDORSEMENT… “With Iowa’s Republican presidential caucus up for grabs, all eyes have been on Mike Huckabee, the contest’s 2008 GOP winner whose potential endorsement in the race would surely be a game changer for any of the aspiring presidential hopefuls,” reports Yahoo News’ Holly Bailey. “But Huckabee is not going to play the role of kingmaker—at least not right now. In an interview with Yahoo News, the former Arkansas governor says he won’t formally endorse a Republican candidate before January’s Iowa caucuses—and he’s likely to stay neutral throughout the primaries. ‘I really doubt I will endorse anyone in the primary process,’ Huckabee told Yahoo News. ‘I’m still holding the right to do that, but I don’t see at this point a reason it makes a whole lot of sense for me.’ Why? For one, Huckabee says it’s probably better for him to stay on the sidelines because of his status as a Fox News host and commentator. (‘If I were to endorse one of the candidates, I would have one ingrate and several other people who would hate my guts for the rest of time,’ he joked.)”

SARAH PALIN KEEPS QUIET. “Sarah Palin may have been fielding calls from the GOP contenders since she decided not to enter the GOP primary in October, but according to her advisers and those with access to her she is staying mum on who she will get behind,” ABC’s Shushannah Walshe reports. “‘She remains tightlipped about whether she will endorse a Republican candidate and if she will, who it will be,’ according to an insider with knowledge of the inner workings of SarahPAC. ‘She has not even informed her close staff about whether she is going to make an endorsement, who it will be, or how it will be made.’ However, another source close to SarahPAC says that it does appear she may be leaning towards Newt Gingrich. Similar to when she was mulling whether to enter the race herself or not, she is keeping her staff on their toes, and even they don’t know when she will make up her mind.”

IN THE NOTE’S INBOX: “The Democratic National Committee today announced a new effort to protect every eligible citizen’s right to vote, with its launch of a new website and release of this new report: “A Reversal in Progress: Restricting Voting Rights for Electoral Gain”.  DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz will hold a press conference call with reporters today at 10:30 a.m. to discuss the effort.”


@ DavidMDrucker : Why R key Mem’s of Congress backing  @MittRomney even as @NewtGingrich rises?Fears that NG can’t beat @BarackObama:

@ adamnagourney : Could Jerry Brown be right? Is California going to be 1st in US to recoil against cuts and turn to taxes? My story:

@ edatpost : Exclusive: Stimulus watchdog Earl Devaney is stepping down

@ mlcalderone : “Romney hasn’t done a Sunday talk show since The Hurt Locker beat Avatar for best picture”

@ 2chambers : Happy birthday! RT  @HotlineJess: It’s birthday day at  @njhotline! Happy birthday to  @HotlineJosh &  @stephpalla



* Herman Cain is in New Hampshire where he’ll hold no public events, but will be interviewed by the New Hampshire Union Leader Editorial Board in Manchester. Herman Cain then travels to Tennessee for an evening event at Middle Tennessee State University to discuss his time at Godfather’s Pizza.

* Newt Gingrich campaigns in Iowa where he’ll speak to employees at Nationwide Insurance in Des Moines. Newt Gingrich will also headline the Polk County GOP Dinner in Johnstown, Iowa.

* Mitt Romney will not be holding any public events, but New Jersey Governor Chris Christie will campaign on behalf of the presidential candidate in Florida.

* Ron Paul is on the trail in Portsmouth, New Hampshire where he’ll speak to the Portsmouth Rotary Club. Ron Paul will also hold an evening town hall in Laconia, New Hampshire.

–ABC’s Josh Haskell

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