Mitt Romney's current run for the White House has not included a big presence in the first state that will actually vote: Iowa, which holds its caucuses on Jan. 3.
He failed to meet expectations at the Iowa caucuses in 2008. So for 2012, his campaign has focused instead on New Hampshire as the key to a series of primary victories that, they believe, will result in the former Massachusetts governor winning the GOP nomination.
But on Thursday, Romney was back in Iowa. He was campaigning in Sioux City when the news broke out of Libya that ousted leader Moammar Gadhafi had been killed. The candidate gave reporters a brief reaction to the news.
"I think it's about time. Gadhafi — a terrible tyrant that killed his own people, and murdered Americans and others in the tragedy in Lockerbie. The world is a better place with Gadhafi gone," he said.
Romney and other Republican candidates have been critical of President Obama's decision to intervene in Libya. But Thursday, he did not answer a follow-up as to whether President Obama deserves credit. At the town hall meeting, Romney found plenty of other things to criticize Obama for. Mostly, the focus was on the economy.
"America needs leadership," he said. "I say again: I like the president, I think he's a nice guy. But he's never led before."
This was Romney's first trip to Iowa since the August state fair. This time, he was in the conservative west side of the state, an area where he did poorly four years ago. At Thursday's town hall, he seemed wary at first.
"I know there are friends in the audience," he told the crowd. "I see some Romney stickers on, although I've learned that sometimes those are just camouflage."
But in the 30 minutes of questions and answers that followed, there were no direct attacks, no stinging critiques of the Massachusetts health care reform law he signed known as RomneyCare. Questions were mostly routine — on cutting government, taxes and the budget.
Romney himself did not mention any of his opponents for the nomination by name. And on stage, he strove to stay above what has become an increasingly aggressive GOP campaign. With the Iowa caucuses now just over two months away, there will be a lot of ads like a new one from the Rick Perry campaign that draws parallels between Romney's health care plan and President Obama's health care law — using Romney's own words against him.
But even though Romney kept to the high road at his town hall Thursday, at the very same time, his campaign was launching a new website devoted entirely to a scathing review of Perry's record, CareerPolitician.com.
At one point on Thursday, Romney was quizzed about why he's spent so little time in Iowa. Attorney Matt Winter, 28, wanted to know if this is finally the start of a real effort by Romney in the state.
"Look," said the candidate, "I want to get the support of Iowans. I'm in Iowa — this is not my first trip to Iowa, as you know. And I will be here again and again ... I'd love to win in Iowa, any of us would."
Winter said it's important to him that candidates take Iowa seriously. But he also says he's a moderate and sees Romney as such — though that's a word Romney will never utter on the campaign trail. He'd much rather be seen as inevitable.