This story is a collaborative effort between Iowa Independent and HuffPost's OffTheBus. As part of our investigation, OffTheBus members spoke with more than a third of Iowa's Republican county chairs. The team was coordinated by Theresa Weathers and Steven Greenberg, and interviews were conducted by Kirsten Anderson, Mariangela Anzalone, Robin Carpenter, Adam Dancy, Kim Farris, Mayhill Fowler, Melissa Hapke, Saba Kennedy-Washington, Chris Nelson, P.S. Peete, Heidi Pickman, Constance Sere, Randall Tigue, and John Tomasic.
Throughout most of 2007, Gov. Mitt Romney was the candidate to beat in Iowa's GOP caucuses. Despite his recent downturn, he remains tied for the top position here with Gov. Mike Huckabee.
But Romney was not always the dominant force in Iowa that he became. In mid 2005, polls indicated that Romney's support was in the single digits, within the margin of error of zero. He was virtually unknown.
So he started building relationships on the ground here early, and it paid off. In a series of interviews with 37 of Iowa's 99 Republican county chairs conducted by Huff Post's OffTheBus project as part of a collaboration with Iowa Independent, it was revealed that Romney made quite an impression on key GOP activists across the state before some other candidates were even paying attention.
"The Romney campaign did an event in Fall 2005," said Mitch Hambleton, chair of the Republican Party in Dallas County, which contains many of Des Moines's heavily Republican suburbs. Romney was only halfway through his second term as Governor of Massachusetts when he gave the keynote speech at the Dallas County GOP's annual steak fry fundraiser. "He was just getting ... established in the state. I had the opportunity to meet him and share views," said Hambleton.