With just five weeks to go until Election Day, polls show Mitt Romney badly trailing President Barack Obama in virtually every key swing state, with his campaign struggling to overcome a series of stumbles that have weakened the Republican presidential nominee in the past three weeks.
Nowhere are Romney’s troubles more apparent than in Iowa, a key battleground state that once looked like one of Romney’s best shots to take back a state Obama won four years ago.
An Obama stronghold in 2007 and 2008, the Hawkeye State has been trending to the right since then, propelled by conservative backlash to the president’s policies. Obama took a serious beating on the Iowa airwaves in the lead-up to the state’s first-in-nation Republican caucuses, and Republicans now edge out Democrats in voter registration.
But despite these factors, Obama has regained the advantage and now leads Romney by an average of 3.5 points in the state, according to RealClearPolitics.
So where did Romney go wrong?
To get some answers, we checked in with Iowa’s conservative kingmaker Steve Deace. A nationally-syndicated radio host, Deace has been Romney’s sharpest critic on the right in Iowa since the 2008 campaign.
Here’s what he had to say on why Romney is struggling, what he can do to come back, and what another Obama win would mean for the Republican Party:
Business Insider: Do you buy the latest polling that shows Mitt Romney significantly down in Iowa and other swing states?
Deace: I think polls that have a Democrat voter sample higher than the Democrat turnout in 2008 are off, but I also think Romney is clearly behind. For example, I know a conservative pollster who strictly polls cell phone users across the country, and his polling sample is more in line with a turnout model that favours Republicans. And in some of his battleground state polls Romney is actually doing worse than in mainstream media polls.
Business Insider: Where do you think Romney has gone wrong? How damaging do you think his latest stumbles — and the 47 per cent comments in particular — are to his campaign?
Deace: The campaign spent too much time telling us Obama has failed. The American people already know that, which explains the results we saw in 2010. This has been a referendum on Romney for months now, and until recently most of my conservative friends didn’t want to admit that. This election is not about how bad the the last four years have been, but how much better the next four years could be.
Business Insider: Do you think Romney can recover? If so, how?
Deace: I do think he can recover. If I was advising him, I would say own who you are and be comfortable in your own skin for a change. In other words, yes he’s filthy rich and successful. How did he get there? By doing the exact opposite of what this president has done to the economy the past four years. He needs a clear, concise, and transparent plan of no more than five points with benchmarks of accountability, and he needs to sell that credibly to the American people. He doesn’t need to reinvent himself. He needs to actually own who he really is for once. He’s not a culture warrior. He’s not a conservative. He’s not a man of deep political conviction. He’s a guy that knows how to make money, and make other people money. Be that guy. Don’t be something you’re not.
Business Insider: Romney has been criticised for spending too much time fundraising, and not enough time campaigning and meeting with voters. How much do you think that has to do with his problems?
Deace: I don’t think he’s spent enough time reaching out directly to voters, but I don’t think that specifically is what’s wrong inasmuch as it’s a symptom of the overall campaign’s failure.
Business Insider: If Romney loses the election, what effect will that have on the Republican Party, both in Iowa and nationally?
Deace: There is civil war coming in the Republican Party on a grand scale. Look no further than all the carnage in GOP primaries the past two cycles for evidence of that. Look at the way the base stood up to the party on Todd Akin as well. If Romney wins, that civil war will be delayed until the first time he violates conservative orthodoxy on a major policy issue. If Romney loses, the establishment Bastille is stormed just seconds after midnight on November 7th.