How badly can Romney afford to do in Iowa?

First, and most important, Romney has been the favorite for the Republican presidential nomination for the entirety of the contest. Yes, the likes of Herman Cain, Rick Perry and even Newt Gingrich have risen and, in the case of the first two, fallen. But never has Romney been seen as anything but the most likely pick for the nod. He has been the best-funded, best-organized and best-staffed candidate from the get-go.

In other words, frontrunners win. Period. They don’t get to make excuses about extenuating circumstances and the way the deck was stacked against them.

Second, polling in the runup to Iowa suggests the race is basically a three-way tie for first between Romney, Gingrich and Texas Rep. Ron Paul. Both Romney and his aligned super PAC — known as “Restore our Future” — are now spending heavily in the state, and the former Massachusetts governor is flooding Iowa with surrogates over the final few days before the caucuses to make his case.

Combine Romney’s status as the national frontrunner with the fact that he is in a dead heat in the state a week out, and it’s virtually impossible to see how a third-place finish could be spun as a victory — particularly if Gingrich wins.