Lately Mitt Romney has been saying that winning Iowa and New Hampshire are not necessary, but that he only hopes to earn one of the three tickets coming out of Iowa and one of the two out of New Hampshire. This is an interesting development because all throughout 2007 Mitt insisted that Iowa, New Hampshire and the other early states were “must” wins.
My inclination is that Mitt realized that with the way he was polling and spending in Iowa and New Hampshire, that anything less than a dominant win would be a loss and thus, he needed to lower expectations. That lowering came in the form of Mike Huckabee and John McCain. So while Mitt did not help or encourage the rise of these candidates, I would be hard pressed to believe that he didn’t view them as potentially blessings in disguise.
Over the last month, Mitt completely lost his lead in Iowa, thus eliminating his expected dominant victory in Iowa. What Mitt has now done is successfully pulled himself back into a tie with Huckabee, potentially making Mitt the front runner due to his vast grassroots organization. So, now that expectations have been lowered, the reason for him to continue to keep them low and say things like “Iowa is not a must win” is two-fold:
1. In the event they lose Iowa, they can viably say they are in good shape and pleased with the outcome.
2. If they pull out a victory it produces positive coverage for Mitt, that he is the ‘comeback kid’. It is especially helpful in the event he wins Iowa by a large margin.
The second reason above is what my gut tells me Mitt expects. As Mitt has drawn into a virtual tie in Iowa, he knows he is at an advantage. I would not be surprised to discover that internal polling shows Romney with a larger lead than what independent pollsters are getting.
So by Mitt saying that they are ok with 2nd place, then end up winning Iowa handily, he is expecting a rush of momentum heading into New Hampshire to fight off McCain. And in order to that Mitt is going to need Iowa.