Romney’s ’08 Iowa chair: there’s an opening here

Doug Gross, the Des Moines attorney who was a key supporter of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s 2008 campaign, spoke with me this morning, after Governor Terry Branstad sent a signal to presidential candidates.  Branstad’s message was that the Caucus process was open to everybody.  The message from Gross was that there is an opening for a “mainstream” candidate in Iowa — because there are so many socially-conservative candidates running in 2012.

“Far be it from me to disagree with Terry Branstad,” said Gross, who was Branstad’s chief of staff a couple of decades ago, “but I think we’ve tried to cultivate an image over the years of being open to everybody. However in the last couple of cycles we’ve had situations where it appeared that the Caucuses were dominated by the Christian right and as a result of that the national media has the feeling that we’re not open to everybody, that if you’re a so-called “mainstream” Republican you don’t have a decent shot here. I frankly think the mainstream media is wrong on that.  I think this is a different year because largely with Huckabee getting out, you’ll have multiple social conservatives in the race. As a result of that, they’ll divide up a lot of the Caucus vote and there’ll be an opportunity for a mainstream Republican to come in and do surprisingly well here. If I were Mitt Romney and I wanted to be the nominee for president, I’d play in Iowa this time because if you win in Iowa this time you have a chance to win the nomination.”

Gross offers a deadline for decision-making. “I don’t think really you can wait beyond the 15th of June to be ‘all in’ in Iowa and to effectively compete here,” Gross said.

Branstad also talked about bringing in “new” voters or Caucus participants.  Gross amplified that: “”We’ve done some surveying and it shows that even among social conservatives, a plurality care most about the economic issues right now because of the times we’re in, so I think there’s an opportunity here to have some of the folks who otherwise might not participate in the Caucuses participate this time and change the impact somewhat beyond what we’ve seen in the past.”

And a sort of closing statement from Gross could be seen as a message to Romney: stay out and you’ll see someone else capitalize on your turf.  “I think (former Minnesota Governor Tim) Pawlenty, I think, is playing this ‘right’ right now,” Gross said. “Pawlenty is running a sort of mainstream campaign and he’s the only one doing it and as a result of that could finish surprisingly well in the Iowa Caucuses unless someone else gets in.”

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.