Mitt Romney speaks outside a shuttered factory in Allentown, Pa., June 30, 2011
As several of his rivals for the GOP presidential nomination criss-cross Iowa this week in advance of next month's straw poll and the first-in-the-nation caucuses there, Mitt Romney continues to follow a different strategy.
He's on the campaign trail today -- but not in the Hawkeye State. Or New Hampshire. Or South Carolina. Or even Nevada.
Instead, he will bring his economy-focused message to Central Ohio, a visit that will mark his fourth public campaign appearance in a non-early-nominating state in the past month.
Last week, Romney criticized President Obama's economic policies at a vacant strip mall in Southern California. On June 30, he spoke outside a shuttered factory in Allentown, PA, while the president attended two fundraisers in Philadelphia. And a month ago today, he spoke to crowds from the back of a pickup truck in Utah. Each of these stops also included fundraisers for the Romney campaign.
But while Romney has made multiple campaign stops in New Hampshire in the past month, he has campaigned in Iowa only once this year. He also declined to actively compete in next month's Iowa straw poll, but was added to the ballot last weekend by the event’s organizers.
This is a significant departure from Romney’s presidential bid four years ago, when he campaigned vigorously in both Iowa and New Hampshire, but finished second in those contests.
This time around, however, the strategy of focusing beyond the early nominating states is a deliberate one.
“We are running a national campaign against President Obama and his failed economic policies,” said Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “That means our focus is not just the early states, but places like Ohio and elsewhere that people are looking for leadership on jobs.”
Some observers say forgoing campaigning in early states like Iowa -- in favor of campaigning elsewhere -- could backfire on the current GOP front-runner.
"I understand his strategy," Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad (R) said last month. But, he added, "I think he jeopardizes his front-runner status if he does poorly in Iowa."
Rival campaigns also have criticized the former Massachusetts governor.
"Gov. Romney is the front-runner for the Republican nomination, but it's telling that he apparently doesn't feel confident in his campaign's ability to win support from conservatives in swing states like Iowa,” Tim Pawlenty spokesman Alex Conant told NBC News. “Gov. Pawlenty's ability to unite Republicans in both Iowa and New Hampshire is indicative of what a strong Republican nominee he will be against President Obama."
But making campaign swings through Ohio and Pennsylvania doesn't mean he's ignoring the early states. He maintains a large lead in New Hampshire, where he kicked off his 2012 presidential campaign. And the Washington Post wrote over the weekend that Romney is waging a "stealth campaign" in Iowa.
"Romney is engineering low expectations so that if he finishes second or third — or worse — it won’t set him back," the Post said. "Yet he also wants to be in position to pounce if he sees an opportunity."