“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.