Iowa's Republican governor sent a warning to Mitt Romney on Wednesday: Don't write off the Hawkeye State.
Terry Branstad, a former four-term governor who returned to office this year, said at a forum hosted by Politico that the GOP front-runner is "making a big mistake" by favoring other states to his.
"I mean, Romney is dropping in the polls and I think he thinks that he wants to keep down expectations, you know. Well, his expectations may get really bad if he doesn't get a little more serious," Branstad said, according to Politico.
"I know Romney is putting his focus in New Hampshire, but if he gets clobbered here — if he comes in not in the top three but say fourth or fifth — I think that really damages his campaign on the national [level]."
Romney has not visited Iowa, the leadoff caucus state, since last week. It was just his second trip there in three months, his fourth since becoming an official candidate.
He has skipped several high-profile candidate gatherings there, and will do so again at a Thanksgiving forum planned for Saturday. He did attend the Iowa State Fair in August, but did not participate in the Ames Straw Poll, which he had won four years earlier.
The notion that Romney is writing off the state is fueled further by a report in the St. Petersburg Times this week that Romney told GOP donors he does not expect to win the Jan. 3 caucuses.
According to that report, "Romney predicted a tea party favorite would win Iowa and that he would take New Hampshire, according to interviews with six people in the audience. Romney told the crowd he would seal the nomination by then winning Florida's Republican contest."
A Bloomberg poll released Tuesday showed Romney just two points behind Herman Cain in the state. At 18%, he's far ahead of a candidate like Rick Santorum, who has now visited all of the state's 99 counties.
Romney finished second in the 2008 Iowa caucuses to Mike Huckabee. John McCain, the eventual nominee, finished fourth.
Branstad said that Romney risked making the same mistake as Rudy Giuliani, who had been the national front-runner in that race.
"At this point four years ago, he was the front-runner ... by the time it got to Florida, he was out of it," Branstad said, according to Politico.
Romney endorsed Branstad in his 2010 bid to reclaim the governor's office, backing him in the Republican primary over a tea-party-backed challenger, Bob Vander Plaats. Vander Plaats' group Family Leader is hosting Saturday's forum.