Several recollections from the campaigns of 2007/2008 in Iowa could help some candidates if they pay attention.
First, Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney finished one and two in Iowa because they both spent a tremendous amount of time here. You can’t win Iowa without visits, lots of Iowa visits. We, like the folks from New Hampsphire, expect to be courted.
In addition to his time here, however, Romney spent tons more money than Huckabee but still lost. Why? It appears that Romney spent money on three things, First, radio ads. Romney ran an ad touting himself as the next Ronald Reagan. It was a good ad and focused on reducing spending and taxes. The problem, in my opinion, was that the ad ran on WHO Radio which is mostly talk radio. Romney ran the same exact ad over and over and over and over and over again for months and months and months and months and months. If you got bored reading that sentence, think how bored we got from hearing the same voice-over commercial every day during Rush and other shows. We had it memorized and certainly knew who Mitt Romney was. I had never heard of Mike Huckabee.
Second, Romney must have spent a lot of money on mailable print advertising. Our family got at least two flyers from him (and none from Huckabee or any other candidate). The problem was that the pieces featured either prominent unflattering pictures of Mike Huckabee or his name in big letters. There was Romney’s introduction of Mike Huckabee to voters of Iowa. Romney chose to focus on Huckabee rather than himself. If Huckabee had higher name recognition, blame Romney for running a mostly negative campaign.
Third, the Ames Straw Poll was won by Romney, almost two-to-one over Huckabee, and the also-rans Newt Gingrich, Tommy Thompson, Duncan Hunter, Tom Tancredo, Sam Brownback, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain or Ron Paul (who I think came in third place). Fred Thompson didn’t even get in the race in time to make the poll (a big mistake, I think). But my personal impression was that Romney’s show at the Ames Straw Poll was purchased by bringing in big name entertainment, busing in voters, and setting up a circus atmosphere. Huckabee voters drove themselves there from all over the state ( I don’t claim that these observations – in this paragraph – are anything other than my own personal impression and subject to my own biases).
Finally, on caucus night, Newton, Iowa, the stage was set for our local caucuses. All precincts met at one school and then caucused in individual classrooms. After being appointed to a room, each of us listened to representatives of each candidate give a spiel. In our room, the spokesman for Romney had been brought in from Utah and he was apparently a politician from there. After he spoke, he left so that he could speak in other rooms. I spoke for Huckabee in our room (and of course, stayed, and cast my vote for Huckabee). Who are people more likely to vote for if they are on the fence? The guy who probably paid people to travel 2000 miles away (even if the spokespersons paid their own way, the impression left was otherwise) or the guy represented by your neighbor? I am quite sure this process played out in room after room, town after town, city after city. Romney’s money was not well-spent, in my opinion, whether for radio or print ads, straw polls, or last minute persuasion by outsiders.