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Dec. 9 (Bloomberg) -- There’s just one thing nagging at Iowa voter Cari Gregg about embracing Mitt Romney as her presidential candidate: He hasn’t bothered to show up to campaign for her vote.
“My struggle throwing my full support to him is he’s kind of writing us off a little bit,” said Gregg, a 26-year-old credit analyst from Johnston, Iowa, who attended a Dec. 7 rally for Romney headlined by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie --not the candidate himself. “You have to at least come here and let people know you want it.”
There are less than four weeks until Iowa’s Jan. 3 caucuses kick off the Republican presidential nominating process. On the streets of some early-voting states, Romney, 64, has been a man difficult to find.
Rival Newt Gingrich, the former U.S. House speaker from Georgia who is surging in the polls, appeared at four events in two days last week and plans to be in Des Moines tomorrow. Romney plans to campaign today in Cedar Rapids, with a town hall that will mark only his ninth event in Iowa since entering the presidential race on June 2.
Now the former Massachusetts governor and second-time presidential hopeful says he’s ready to shift tactics and begin offering his “closing arguments” to voters.
Change of Approach
It’s an acknowledgment that Romney’s approach to date, limiting his interactions with voters while delegating some of the job to surrogates such as Christie, isn’t sufficient to propel him to victory.
The past two weeks have brought “not just the emergence of Newt, but actually a little bit of decline for Mitt Romney” in such early-voting states as Iowa and Florida, said Alex Castellanos, an unaffiliated Republican strategist. Romney “has two issues to deal with now. One is stopping Newt, but the other is there’s no guarantee now that Romney inherits anything that Gingrich might surrender.”
Romney’s campaign says the tempo shift is driven by the calendar. “It’s really reflective of the timing here that we’re getting closer to the finish and we felt that this was an appropriate time to begin drawing the very clear contrasts between Governor Romney and Speaker Gingrich,” said Jim Merrill, a New Hampshire-based senior adviser. “There’s no change in strategy. We know, and we’ve known from Day 1, that whether it’s in New Hampshire or in other states throughout the country, we’ve got to make our case to voters.”
For most of the year, Romney has campaigned as an heir apparent to the nomination, mostly eschewing attacks on his opponents during televised debates and in public remarks and focusing his fire on President Barack Obama.
Romney has limited his unscripted events with voters except in New Hampshire, where he is popular, well-known from his years as governor of a neighboring state, and owns a vacation home. On Dec. 11, Romney will hold his 18th town hall in the Granite State since entering the race.
Elsewhere, he has favored prepared speeches, endorsement announcements, and roundtables with business leaders where he can showcase his executive experience with Bain Capital LLC.
His rivals have made the rounds in restaurants and forums in which voters have the freedom to ask about whatever interests or worries them. In South Carolina yesterday, Texas Governor Rick Perry met voters for lunch at a café in Beaufort, had dinner with them at a Greenville diner, and attended a town hall in Okatie.
Fundraising and Endorsements
In contrast, Romney crisscrossed the country multiple times for at least four fundraisers, collected the endorsement of former Vice President Dan Quayle, and delivered a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition, devoting little time to in-person wooing of voters.
Romney has done some remote campaigning, holding his fifth telephonic town hall with Iowans Dec. 5. He’s also dispatched a variety of surrogates. Romney’s wife, Ann, and son, Josh, are scheduled to join former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty for a rally tomorrow in Des Moines while the candidate prepares for a debate there that evening.
At the headquarters of the Kum & Go convenience store chain on the evening of Dec. 7, it fell to Christie to make the case to a self-described undecided voter about why she should back Romney.
Christie’s answer portrayed Romney as a devoted family man and a candidate who would never do anything in the Oval Office to make Americans “ashamed” -- a knock against Gingrich, 68, who faced ethics charges that resulted in a 1997 House reprimand and has been married three times.
Romney told reporters in Paradise Valley, Arizona Dec. 6 that he would soon be stepping up his “politicking” in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, the first states to hold nominating contests.
“We’re making our closing arguments -- you’ll see me campaigning aggressively,” Romney said. “I’ll be on the air a good deal more than in the past doing my very best to communicate to the American people why I’m running for president, hopefully getting their support.”
Romney has sat for more television interviews in recent days and begun airing advertisements in Iowa and New Hampshire, including one that highlights his 42-year marriage, drawing a contrast with Gingrich’s personal life.
His campaign tapped former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu and former Missouri Senator Jim Talent yesterday to hold a press conference call in which they portrayed Gingrich as a politician whose efforts at self-promotion frequently undermine his party’s agenda.
Romney’s aides and some Republican strategists not affiliated with the campaign say Romney’s strategy from the outset was for him to ramp up slowly in a crowded field and then intensify his efforts when a clear competitor emerged.
“They’ve had a very good game plan,” said Charlie Black, another unaffiliated Republican strategist who was a top adviser to Arizona Senator John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. “Those guys are experienced enough to know nobody comes in and wins every primary without hand-to-hand combat. It was just unclear who the big challenger was going to be. Now Newt has emerged as the primary competition.”
--Editors: Jeanne Cummings, Robin Meszoly
To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Washington at Jdavis159@bloomberg.net.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at firstname.lastname@example.org