Interestingly, though, many Iowa Republicans don't associate him with healthcare—at least not yet, according to a poll released by the Democratic Public Policy Polling. The survey of Iowa Republicans shows that while 63 percent of voters in Iowa say they will not support a candidate who supports even a statewide healthcare mandate, 13 percent of those voters also say they are supporting Romney. "Your average voter nine months out of the caucus isn't really thinking about that kind of thing," says Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling. "There is not a lot of awareness about Romney's healthcare record. Some folks that are very unhappy with him on healthcare will look at the rest of the Republican field and say, 'we'll forgive that misstep because he's the only guy that can really beat Obama.'" Goldford has noticed this in Iowa. "There is a sense on the one hand that it's beginning to speed up, but on the other hand you've still got a lot of folks who really don't know much about what's going on.
Romney's rivals will try to set the scene and educate voters on Romney's healthcare sign off. The challenge for Romney is whether he characterizes his campaign before they do, and so far, he has shown he could at least have the money to change the conversation. Last month, Romney's campaign raised $10 million in a single day. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has already conceded in the money race, telling NBC last week "We're not going to be the money champion in the race to start with. My friend, Mitt Romney, will be the frontrunner in that regard."
Indeed, money is really the issue Romney wants to campaign on, specifically the money the U.S. economy has lost on Obama's watch. As a former governor with a can-do reputation and as a multimillionaire businessman, Romney is positioning himself as the man who can restore America to prosperity. Romney "is smart and articulate and has a certain stature, you can imagine him as president of the United States," says Rothenberg. "He has a serious record of experience and accomplishment. He's the real deal. The question is whether conservatives will embrace him enough, and will he be able to get enough support from the evangelical community."
Some analysts say that while social conservatives are an important constituency in the GOP primaries, they may be too divided among other candidates, giving Romney an edge. "If he gets to be the moderate against five or six conservatives, he probably wins nomination" says Jensen. "He really does need that divided field." There could be enough conservatives running—like Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, businessman Herman Cain, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul—to split up the vote. Cain and Paul have already entered the race, and Santorum is expected to announce early next week. Bachmann is leaning toward a White House run, telling an Iowa public television program she has "this calling and tugging on my heart that this is the right thing to do." She is expected to announce her decision soon in her birthplace of Iowa.
For now, the Romney campaign is still trying to figure out what to do with Iowa and whether to invest a lot of time and money there, considering he didn't do well there in 2008. "It was not a hospitable territory for them last time around," says Goldford. "They can't just not show up but why go somewhere where the deck is stacked against you?" Arguably John McCain didn't make a serious effort in Iowa last time and he won nomination." While Romney might turn social conservatives away on healthcare, he will try to attract them on jobs and the economy. "Jobs and economy remains the number one," says Sean Spicer, spokesperson for the RNC." It's a pocket book election. What voters are looking for is going to be a vision for the future."