Romney on Iowa: "We intend to play"

DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 11: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (C) introduces himself to voters at the Iowa State Fair August 11, 2011 in Des Moines, Iowa. Romney was a the fair ahead of Saturday's Iowa Straw Poll to greet voters and engage in traditional Iowa campaigning rituals. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (C) introduces himself to voters at the Iowa State Fair August 11, 2011 in Des Moines, Iowa.
Getty Images

PETERBOROUGH, N.H. -- Though he was here for a town hall meeting while six of his top Republican presidential rivals courted the evangelical vote in Iowa on Saturday night, Mitt Romney made his plans to compete in the Hawkeye State official.

"We intend to play in Iowa," Romney told reporters here. "I want to do very well there." As to how much time he plans to spend in the state that kicks off the presidential race with its caucuses Jan. 3, one week before the New Hampshire primary, Romney remained coy. In business as in politics, he said, "we tend not to reveal our strategy to our competitors, and so you'll wait and see what we do."

But at this point, Romney's strategy may be to go for a quick race to the nomination -- something he'd be well positioned to accomplish if he can pull off back-to-back victories in the first two contests of the presidential season.

Iowa has only recently emerged as a target for Team Romney. After spending vast amounts of time and money in Iowa four years ago only to place a distant second to evangelical favorite Mike Huckabee, the former Massachusetts governor has been less of a presence in the state this cycle. But with the party's most conservative activists divided among Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Rick Santorum, polls have shown Romney in striking distance of a win. This week, he quietly opened a campaign office in Des Moines, and he has plans to return to the state on Wednesday.

"As we get closer to caucuses and to the primaries, you'll see us visiting those early states more, spending more money there, turning out more volunteers and being more active," Romney said.

Trailed by a professional film crew here, as he was on his last visit to Iowa, Romney teasingly ducked reporters' questions about when he might begin advertising. "Confidentiality of strategy," he admonished, joking: "I'd tell you if you won't tell anybody."

Romney continued to dismiss questions about why staffers who worked for him when he was governor of Massachusetts were able to keep the hard drives of their state computers. He insisted they did nothing wrong. "We followed not only the law, but in Massachusetts, the precedent of prior governors and legislators, Romney said. "I don't think there has ever been an administration that says, let's give you our computer files and emails."

In the town hall, Romney answered mostly friendly questions for about an hour. Although he has spent most of the last four years since his last run for president preparing for this one, the former governor insisted: "I'm not looking for the next step in my political career. I don't have a political career!"

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