Mitt Romney flew beneath the radar in Iowa for months, appearing to distance himself from the first-in-the-nation caucus, before unleashing an 11th hour spending and campaigning blitz in a rope-a-dope strategy experts said could pay big dividends for the GOP presidential hopeful.

“It was definitely a purposeful strategy to campaign aggressively below the surface in Iowa while pretending it was all about New Hampshire,” Boston Republican strategist Rob Gray said. “The truth is, he’s been playing in Iowa all along, but the national media has let him get away with pretending that he’s not. We’ll see what the results are, but so far, the strategy seems to be working since many of the other candidates have broken down.”

Romney, who spent $10 million in a losing effort in Iowa in 2008, skipped the state’s August straw poll and reportedly spent just $200,000 before launching a $1.1 million ad blitz in the Hawkeye State in December. The former Massachusetts governor also has spent the past few days in Iowa while dispatching high-profile surrogates to stump for him in recent weeks, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota).

In 2008, the Romney camp had 52 staffers working in Iowa. This time? Just five are on the payroll, a campaign spokesman told the Herald.

Meanwhile, the Restore Our Future super PAC, a political action committee backing Romney, has spent nearly $3 million in ads hammering Romney’s opponents, including Newt Gingrich.