Romney in Davenport, Iowa (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
DAVENPORT, Iowa--When Mitt Romney returned to this state on Tuesday for the final push before next week's presidential caucuses, he began by telling more than 300 people at a hotel here about a speech Barack Obama delivered in the same city four years ago this week.
"He promised to bring people together. He promised to change the broken system in Washington. He promised to do away with gridlock. He promised to repair the nation," Romney said. "Well, Mr. President … You have failed to deliver on the promises you made here in Davenport."
Romney did not mention any of his Republican rivals as he looked past the Republican primaries and caucuses and toward the November general election. But if Romney wants to quickly clear the Republican field so that he can focus on a direct challenge of President Obama, he must first deliver on some of the promise that he, too, demonstrated four years ago in Iowa.
Perhaps the biggest unknown heading into Tuesday's caucuses is whether Romney can win here merely by activating the organization he built in Iowa for his 2008 presidential campaign. With key voting blocs, like social conservatives, divided among several other candidates, some Republicans in the state say Romney has a real possibility of pulling off a surprise win on Jan. 3.
"It's a wild card," Craig Robinson, a former political director of the Iowa Republican Party, told Yahoo News. "He has a base of support from 2008, but nobody really knows what these people will do."
For months, Romney has been coy about how much money and effort he would invest in Iowa—and with good reason. Four years ago, he spent tens of millions of dollars to win the state—hiring dozens of consultants and flooding the TV and radio airwaves with campaign ads. Romney criss-crossed the state in what the campaign called the "Mittmobile," visiting each of the state's 99 counties at least once.
"By the end, there wasn't anybody who didn't know who he was," Renee Schulte, a state representative who ran Romney's organization in Linn County in 2008 and is now a co-chairwoman of his 2012 campaign in Iowa, told Yahoo News.
But it didn't help. The ex-governor came in a disappointing second place to Mike Huckabee, an insurgent candidate who had spent virtually nothing compared to Romney. The loss contributed to Romney's speedy collapse in the polls in other early voting states like New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.
Yet, while Romney lost to Huckabee in 2008 by 10 points, more than 30,000 people supported his candidacy, and he won several counties by large margins in eastern and western Iowa. In a divided field with lower voter turnout expected, 30,000 votes might be enough to win Iowa in 2012.
"Four years ago, he started out with a name recognition of 3 percent, and this time, around, we now have a foundation to work with," Schulte told Yahoo.
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