DES MOINES, Iowa — Republican Mitt Romney is returning to Iowa to begin what his aides promise will be a leaner campaign for the state's leadoff nominating caucuses than the expensive juggernaut he assembled here in his 2008 race.
The former Massachusetts governor plans to officially announce his second bid for the presidency next week in New Hampshire, the state around which he's built his 2012 strategy.
That formality comes as former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum prepares to enter the race in the coming days, and as Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann signaled she likely would do the same next month in Waterloo, where she was born. At the same time, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is launching an East Coast bus tour starting Sunday, a move that's fueling speculation that she, too, is preparing for a run.
Romney, for his part, is making his first trip to Iowa this year on Friday, with plans to visit a suburban Des Moines technology firm and address a business group in the capital city.
The topic is in keeping with what aides say will be a campaign more focused on a national economic message, and less focused on appealing specifically to Republican activists in the first-in-the-nation caucus state.
Romney has rethought his Iowa plans after his second-place finish in the caucuses during his 2008 bid for the GOP nomination. He spent millions in the state only to be beaten late in the campaign by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a stricter social conservative who appealed to the Christians who form the backbone of the Iowa GOP caucus base.
Romney has said he plans to campaign in Iowa and field a staff ahead of the 2012 caucuses.
He unveiled a team of key Iowa backers Thursday led by a former state party chairman and planned to meet in eastern Iowa Friday with supporters from counties where he won in 2008. Romney also spoke briefly with Iowa's Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, Monday, another sign he is not forsaking the leadoff state, as some observers suggested he would.
But aides would not say whether Romney planned to compete in the Iowa Republican Party's presidential straw poll, a traditionally big pre-caucus event planned for mid-August. Romney spent heavily to organize en route to winning the straw poll in August 2007.
The New York Times points out:
Mr. Romney may, however, have to confront his own words. Four years ago, when [John] McCain and [Rudy] Giuliani declined to actively participate in Iowa and its August straw poll, Mr. Romney delivered lectures on the importance of adhering to the traditions that have helped vet presidential candidates for years.
"If you can’t compete in Iowa in August, how are you going to compete in January when the caucuses are held?” Mr. Romney said as he and his wife, Ann, and their five sons blanketed the state four years ago. “And how are you going to compete in November?”
Some influential GOP activists have said Romney should reconsider his less aggressive Iowa approach since several Republicans with stronger social conservative profiles than Romney are expected to run, leaving him an opening with pro-business conservatives.