There's a spate of headlines zipping around the national politicojournosphere that Mitt Romney is considering "skipping" the Iowa caucuses in his quest for the 2012 campaign.
I am writing to ask my fellow journos and pundits, wherever they may be, to resist echoing the ridiculous verb "skip" in discussing this. If Romney spends less of his resources on Iowa this time (as I have long suggested he will), it will be because he believes he can't win there, and doesn't want to be seen as trying and losing.
In most competitions, this is called "conceding defeat," or something along those lines. For instance, if Jon has me facing certain checkmate in five moves and I tip over my king, this is not called "skipping the game against Jon."
There are times when I think it's fair to talk about "skipping." An unknown and poorly funded candidate might decide he or she could compete in any of the early states, but would be best served strategically to pick one.
This obviously does not apply to Romney, who starts with top-notch name recognition, funds, and staff to run a full-scale campaign everywhere at once, and of course a history of already winning a large percentage of Iowa caucus votes in 2008.
The media falls for this all the time -- they fell for it repeatedly throughout the 2008 GOP nomination cycle, in fact. My favorite was when Romney, after literally spending four years campaigning in South Carolina, flew to Nevada at the last minute for that state's caucuses the same day (heavily Mormon-dominated, so the other candidates had long since conceded it to him) and claimed to have skipped South Carolina.... and didn't get mercilessly mocked for it.
But of course the biggest one was Rudy Giuliani, who managed to convince almost everybody that he "skipped" every state before Florida -- in fact, he is going around now suggesting that the reason he lost was this skipping strategy. Nonsense. He opened operations in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, spent time there, had staff and supporters, and couldn't get any traction at all; so, one by one he drew back and spread word that he was "skipping" Iowa... and then New Hampshire... and so on. Yes, he was relying heavily on Florida, but that's because he knew he had huge disadvantages in the other states. It wasn't because he didn't have the money or time to campaign.
In fact, Giuliani and McCain both got credit for "skipping" Iowa in 2008, when in fact they both realized they weren't going to win, drew down their efforts, and claimed they were "skipping" to lower expectations, and then continued running quieter, but very real campaigns there to try to do "surprisingly" well (particularly relative to one another).
McCain did a better job of it, and got 13% to Giuliani's 4% -- while Romney, who didn't "skip," got 25%. Guess who got the big media bump out of Iowa (aside from Huckabee)? McCain. That wasn't by accident.
Romney may be trying to play McCain this time, lowering expectations so he can beat them. But he isn't "skipping."