Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Does Romney have Iowa locked down?

DES MOINES -- Six months before the Iowa caucuses, Mitt Romney has taken a commanding organizational lead in this traditional kick-off state.

Arizona Sen. John McCain's financial difficulties have forced him to dramatically scale back his Iowa campaign, and it's not clear whether former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani or ex-Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson will fully engage in the Hawkeye State caucuses.

That leaves Romney as the sole representative of the GOP top tier to commit to the traditional Ames Straw Poll and offer himself to voters for up close and personal inspections.

The former Massachusetts governor has 20 full-time staffers, coordinators in most of the state's 99 counties, and a group of about 50 "super volunteers" that has already swept through the universe of likely caucus-goers with initial phone calls and have begun going door to door in key precincts.

His effort got a big boost last week when McCain, down to just $2 million cash on hand, halved his Iowa staff to seven to save money. Let go were McCain's state director and seven other operatives in the state who had been building the senator's organization for months.

It was a hard blow for McCain, not least because he was already viewed with some suspicion by conservative activists in the state.

The senator's public identification with the immigration bill has been crushing.

"Even as far left as Tom Harkin is, he got so many calls on this issue that he voted with the conservatives on this," observed Mark Lundberg, chairman of the Sioux County Republican Party, referring to the state's Democratic senator. "That could be the nail in McCain's coffin in Iowa."

The Arizonan, however, retains the loyalties of a group of Hawkeye State political veterans -- starting with his campaign manager Terry Nelson -- and has pledged to fight in Iowa.

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