When I first got word from the Giuliani campaign that Rudy would be in Iowa this week after basically a two-month absence, I wasn't entirely sure what to make of it. After all, if you're convinced you're not going to do well in a state, which seems to be Giuliani's view of Iowa, why would you risk raising expectations, making it even harder to spin a lousy showing?
But then I started thinking along the same lines Jonathan Martin is thinking today--the general election. Here's what Jonathan's reporting:
"Our entire grass-roots organization welcomes the new date for the Iowa caucuses," [Giuliani campaign manager Mike] DuHaime said in a statement, adding that his candidate "is the only Republican who can win Iowa in the general election."
And perhaps that explains the neither-fish-nor-fowl strategy Giuliani seems to be pursuing here. While hoping to keep expectations low in a state whose caucuses are dominated by social conservatives and won by meticulous organization of all 99 counties, Giuliani aides also don't want to risk the wrath of a swing state in the general election.
So publicly they portray their campaign as one national in scope and assure Iowans that their state is part of the strategy. Privately, however, they point to the lead Romney has built here and hope his victory is a hollow one.
I'm not sure how plausible it is for Rudy to carry Iowa in the general--I think he's more likely to steal a state like Pennsylvania--but you certainly don't want to alienate the local GOP, particularly one as self-important as Iowa's. So I see the rationale here. (And, don't forget, Bush actually won Iowa in 2004.)
On the other hand, I have a hard time seeing how Rudy does any better than third--and I see fourth as more likely. Huckabee seems to have real grassroots support, and Thompson continues to be pretty popular in the state. Without completely disavowing the idea that he's trying to compete in Iowa, fourth place could be really problematic for Giuliani. People don't expect an ostensible front-runner to finish fourth anywhere he or she competes. I chalk it up to what may be the most serious threat facing the Giuliani campaign: hubris.
Update: Just to be clear, the hubris going on here is the Giuliani campaign's thinking that they may sneak into second in Iowa without investing a whole lot of time or money there. There isn't a whole lot of evidence to support that view. But, if you're Rudy, maybe you think you can do it just because you're Rudy...