Just a week ago it seemed that Mitt Romney was on the verge of being swept away here in Iowa by Huckamania and, with McCain coming on strong in New Hampshire, from there on to political oblivion. And in a few short days it still may happen. (Have I mentioned before how fluid and uncertain things out here are?)
But based on the latest polls (yes, yes, I know) it looks like Mitt might be staging a bit of a comeback.
So in that spirit — and in search of some French Toast, too — my family and I went down to the Hamburg Inn for lunch today to see Mitt in action.
The Hamburg Inn, with irony perhaps lost on the Romney campaign, is also the home of the famous “Coffee Bean Caucus” which will, in just a few days, provide us yet another scientific predictor of Iowa voting behavior.
Making our way to the ‘Burg through Iowa City today was something of an Invasion of the Body Snatchers experience. . .Everything seemed a bit off, but I couldn’t figure out why. . .Until it occurred to me that virtually everyone we saw was wearing a campaign button, carrying a sign or box of literature, or otherwise engaged in inflicting sincere and enthusiastic forms of civic engagement on Iowa. . .
When Mitt emerged from the Mitt-Mobile (its not quite as good as the “Hill-a-Copter” or the “Huck-a-Bus” but you can’t do quite as much with “Mitt” as you can with “Hill.” I have to admit that he looked, well, presidential. The cut jaw. The smile. The shoulders. The touch of gray at the temples. (And yes, his hair is indeed fantastic) And, important in Republican circles, or so I am told, the wife.
He worked the crowd that had gathered outside quickly and with the practiced efficiency of a time and motion study. “Thanks for coming. . .thank you. . .thanks for coming. . .thank you. . .thanks for coming”. Smile, shake, pivot and on. No one asked Romney anything of substance, and he and Ann seemed pleased to keep things to genial pleasantries. Ann especially, who got off the bus without her jacket and quickly came to the conclusion that she would rather be inside than standing outside on a brisk Sunday afternoon.
The crowd wasn’t huge, but it was enthusiastic. And, sadly for us, once you added in the media it was big enough to keep us out of the ‘Burg when Romney went in to work the room. We had been standing in line for a while, but our daughter and her friend were more interested in Sunday brunch than in waiting it out until the crowd cleared and we could get in.
Based on what I heard afterwards Romney kept the event as content-free as possible, shaking hands, thanking supporters, asserting impending victory — and, most importantly, making sure that all the media got good pictures and B-roll of him working the room in a classic Iowa political institution. And then he was back in the Mitt-Mobile and on his way to the next event.
By all accounts in seeking to counter Huckabee, Romney’s campaign has now entered uncharted territory, going negative and attacking his opponent, hard, in the days leading up to the caucus.
Conventional wisdom is that negative attacks turn people off here, and drive your supporters to turn to other candidates. But with the other Republicans all but in the single digits here, or less, (save the rejuvenated candidate hereafter to be known as I Am Legend, the effect of Romney going negative on Huckabee is less predictable.
Arguably Romney faced little choice, and whatever the conventional wisdom may once have been, the big ad buy and the attacks do seem to have gotten him some traction. Of course Romney has also been helped, immeasurably, by Huckabee’s own gaffes, especially on foreign policy. Its hard to tell how much these gaffes matter to Huckabee’s core supporters, but at the least it is now a race now on the Republican side, too.
And tomorrow, with none of the candidates scheduled to be around Iowa City, I can go back to the ‘Burg.
And get a pie-shake. . .
— Michael Schiffer
Michael Schiffer is The Washington Note’s blogger for the Iowa Caucuses and is a resident of Iowa. He is a program officer in Policy Analysis and Dialogue at the Stanley Foundation based in Muscatine, Iowa — and was previously senior national security adviser and legislative director in the Office of Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)