Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney formally kicked off a campaign for the White House that never really ended even after he withdrew at the 2008 CPAC.
Romney’s “departure speech” at the annual conservative conclave was intended to put an exclamation point on a presidential bid that was dogged by questions about his sincerity regarding conservatism and he did receive some benefit, winning the conference’s much ballyhooed straw poll despite no longer being a candidate when the results were announced.
With evangelical favorite and ex-Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee out of the running for the 2012 GOP presidential nod, Romney is the closest thing to a favorite in the Republican field.
Consider the following.
Romney will be well-financed (as he was in 2008) and is the lone credible Republican candidate who can put together the money to run a national operation in the primaries and caucuses while his fellow GOP rivals are compelled to live off the harvests of the early states.
In the fight for delegates, that’s very important. In crafting the perception of possessing momentum, even more so.
Romney also possesses the double-edged sword of being the man to beat. The benefit is that many Republican primary voters tend to gravitate to the “next in line”. With the exception of George W. Bush, every Republican nominee since Reagan had unsuccessfully sought the party nomination in a previous election cycle.
(For those keeping score at home- Reagan 1976, Bush 1980, Dole 1980 & 1988 and McCain 2000).
Democrats, to their credit, learned to avoid recycling damaged presidential candidates after Adlai Stevenson’s back to back blowout losses in the 1950s.
Romney will draw both votes from conditioned GOP establishment voters and attacks from rivals who know that the best way to open up to the path to the nomination is by knocking out Romney before March 1st.
Perhaps the greatest advantage Romney has is the party’s new nomination rules.
In an attempt to make presidential nomination contest a marathon instead of a sprint, both the Democratic and Republican national committees adopted rules that would regulate how states and territories can allocate delegates.
For example, all contests held between the first Tuesday in March and April 1st must allocate the delegates through a proportional system. States and territories that wish to have a “winner take all” assignment of delegates will have to hold their primaries and caucuses in April or later.
Short of a mass withdrawal of candidates the new rules will prevent the political equivalent of Mike Tyson’s once-trademark first round knockouts.
The most significant aspects of the “nomination reform” changes have to do with the preferential placement of four states and the protection afforded them.
Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, ostensibly representing the nation’s four regions, are allowed to hold their contests prior to the first Tuesday in March. Any state that muscles in on the four’s privileged positioning will lose half its delegates.
For Romney the advantages of the rules are apparent. Romney not only governed a state whose media market envelopes New Hampshire’s most populous southern second but he’s also a property owner in the Granite State.
And New Hampshire voters tend to vote local.
In 2008 Romney overwhelmingly won Nevada’s caucuses. Unfortunately for Romney, McCain won the South Carolina primary the same day and thanks to the media’s decision that the Palmetto State contest was worth more than Nevada’s, McCain got the boost.
Romney is expected to fare well again in Nevada due to the state’s large Mormon population.
With two of the early four states seemingly in his corner before the contest goes national, Romney walks into the nomination fight with no shortage of weapons.
Romney also has no shortage of weaknesses.
One of the reasons why Romney didn’t win the 2008 Republican nomination, which on paper was his to lose, was because conservatives simply did not trust him. Not that they trusted McCain, but conservatives, particularly of the social variety, opted to punt in droves in the fight between Romney and the Arizonan by continuing to vote for Huckabee, who was dead in the water after South Carolina.
With nationalized health care being the biggest issue in the primaries (key word- primaries), Romney’s political liabilities grew exponentially with the advance of President Obama’s health care agenda.
One of the most telling signs that Romney is having trouble wrestling with the issue was the total omission of Obamacare from his prepared remarks at the 2011 CPAC. Romney may have been the only candidate speaking at the conference to not make a reference to health care.
With the next Republican presidential debate coming up next week, it’ll be interesting to see how Romney handles the departure from safe, scripted speeches and reacts to “live fire”.
While the myriad of not well-knowns continue to introduce themselves to the public, the front-runner will have much explaining to do over the next ten months.