Clinton, Iowa — Kenneth Maass, a farmer in Remsen, Iowa, keeps a busy schedule: monthly meetings for the Plymouth County Farm Bureau, for the Northwest Rural Electric Cooperative and for his church, a Lutheran congregation where he serves as chairman. At each of these get-togethers, Mr. Maass, 75, makes a point of extolling what he sees as ’s many virtues.
“I tell them where I think he has his pluses over the others,” said Mr. Maass, who caucused for Mr. Romney in 2008 and plans to do so again next week. “He was successful in creating jobs and successful in business, and that’s why I continue to support him.”
Mr. Maass is one of nearly 100 agribusiness leaders and small-business men who will be speaking for Mr. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, on caucus night. The candidate’s Iowa team plans to introduce more than 40 prominent state business leaders on Thursday, a crucial part of his strategy to expand his universe of supporters. Four years ago, the Romney campaign aggressively pursued Iowa’s evangelical voters, only to see them coalesce around former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, a Baptist minister, at the last minute.
This time, Mr. Romney, well aware of the Christian conservatives aligned against him, is devoting special attention to voters who he thinks should be natural supporters: businesspeople who appreciate his private-sector experience and his focus on the economy.
“We wanted to do a better job of reaching out to the people in the business community who were going to not only be receptive to Governor Romney’s message, but who live it every day and are going to be able to support us without talking points,” said Dave Kochel, Mr. Romney’s top adviser in Iowa. “They know what Governor Romney is about because they’re working in the real economy like he did.”
The Romney campaign has recruited volunteers in the business community, who they hope can spread Mr. Romney’s message to others.
And in a sign that Mr. Romney believes his strategy is working and that he can finish strong in Iowa, his campaign introduced a new television advertisement here on Monday, promoting both his economic vision and his family values. Mr. Romney also plans to spend New Year’s Eve in the state.
“I just want to do well here,” Mr. Romney said Wednesday at a campaign stop here. “I’m happy that I’m getting an enthusiastic response, but I’ve got no predictions for where we’ll end up in the tally.”
He added, “But I feel like it’s going to be a strong showing.”
Roger Underwood, 53, owns three medium-size agricultural businesses and is exactly the sort of community leader the Romney team wants to recruit. In 2008, he supported Fred Thompson of Tennessee, and this year he served as a state co-chairman of the presidential campaign of Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor, until he dropped out of the race. Mr. Underwood joined the Romney team about a month ago, and estimates that he has already talked to as many as 60 people about Mr. Romney.
“I’ll identify people who are leaders in agribusiness, and I’ll reach out to them and make sure they understand who Governor Romney is, and what Governor Romney is trying to communicate to people,” Mr. Underwood said. “It’s a trickle-down effect and a trickle-up effect and a trickle-across effect — and really trickle everywhere, I guess.”
The “trickle everywhere” idea grew out of a business roundtable that Mr. Romney hosted in Pella, Iowa, in August. Mr. Romney and his aides were shocked to realize that he had met only half of the business leaders seated around the table. His Iowa staff members pored through directories for business organizations, identifying leaders and influential community members in four main areas: agribusiness, manufacturing, community banks and rural cooperatives.
Now, more than 100 business and community leaders have joined Mr. Romney’s volunteer army — lobbying for him in both formal and informal ways, and speaking on his behalf on caucus night.
“These are people who can articulate Governor Romney’s concerns,” said Kent Lucken, an international banker from Boston and a top foreign policy adviser and contributor to Mr. Romney.
Once such supporters are in the Romney network, staff members can send them mailers and e-mail, provide them with lists of names to call and include them on tele-town halls. There have also been about half a dozen conference calls, including one that Mr. Romney joined.
The approach in Iowa — winning over persuadable voters, rather than investing time and resources into wooing those who may never cast a Romney ballot — is also a reflection of the campaign’s national strategy, which merges Mr. Romney’s experience in the private sector with current problems facing the country (jobs and the economy). Four years ago, Mr. Romney tried a three-legged stool approach: aggressively wooing foreign policy conservatives, social conservatives and economic conservatives. Today, he has narrowed his focus to economic issues.
That singular approach may also appeal to evangelicals or social issue voters, aides said.
“A lot of business leaders are social conservatives, and the question is: How do you engage them?” Mr. Lucken said. “When you talk to them about jobs and the economy, over-taxation and burdensome regulation, they light up. They can still be concerned about social issues, or be evangelicals at heart, but with a candidate who understands the economy, this is a much better way to lead the conversation with voters.”
For Ron Pierson, the former chief executive of Hy-Vee, an employee-owned supermarket chain headquartered in Iowa, helping Mr. Romney was an easy decision.
“I’m very strong with his business background, and I think that’s way over-needed in the White House,” Mr. Pierson said. “I’ve been very vocal that I’m a Romney supporter.”
Mr. Pierson said he had talked up Mr. Romney at the weekly breakfast meeting he attends with 75 other men, chats about him to members of the various boards and committees with which he is involved and even tried to persuade some neighbors at a recent Christmas party to support Mr. Romney.
They were Newt Gingrich supporters, he explained, and he was not sure he had changed their minds. “But at least I made them think about it a little bit,” he said.