Then things changed. After the collapse of Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain, the Romney campaign decided in early December to move into Iowa. Newt Gingrich was shooting to the top of the polls at that time, but at the same time Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney super PAC, launched a barrage of attack ads that would eventually cripple Gingrich. With Gingrich on the defensive, Romney’s advisers began planning an intense push in Iowa for the days leading up to the caucuses.

At a Romney rally Tuesday morning, I asked top adviser Eric Fehrnstrom whether the return to Iowa had been the plan all along. No, he said. “We didn’t plan our December schedule back in the summer,” Fehrnstrom explained. “We have an organization that’s nimble enough to respond to events as they develop.” In early December, Fehrnstrom continued, “We made an evaluation based on current conditions that we should schedule the governor’s time more freely here in Iowa. We always left his schedule open the week before the caucuses, and we decided to commit more time here.”

So Romney dropped the old strategy and returned to Iowa. By Christmas week, he was campaigning full-time in the state, with no pretense of claiming that he wasn’t really trying to win. Romney was all in, hoping for an early win, or at least a high finish, that would turn Iowa from a weakness into a strength.