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After N.H., Romney

Has The Big Mo

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Mitt Romney as depicted in his official portrait as governor of Massachusetts.
After Wins In The First Two Presidential Nominating Contests, Romney Preps For Challenging Southern Swing

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By John Monahan
Modern Times Magazine

Jan. 12, 2012 — What year it has been for Willard ‘Mitt’ Romney — wins in Iowa and New Hampshire etched his name in the history books as the first non-incumbent to win both presidential nomination contests in the same year.

Ever.

Ronald Reagan didn’t do it, Richard Nixon didn’t do it either. George W. Bush? Forget it.

Oh, he’s got the ‘Big Mo’ working, all right. Pundits and politicos are waxing about how the nomination is a mere technicality. Mitt has adopted a classic strategy of acting “presidential” and “destined” for the nomination as is befitting a smart front-runner.

But for all the talk and posturing, his candidacy still has a fragility that must keep him and staffers Matt Rhoades, Beth Myers, Peter Flaherty, Eric Fehrnstrom, and Stuart Stevens up at night.

Ever since narrowly missing out on the 2008 republican nomination to Arizona Sen. John McCain, Romney has been considered the front runner for the 2012 fight against Pres. Barack Obama.

The rise of the tea party stymied his inevitability to a certain extent early on, but when mainstream competition chose not to challenge him — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush specifically — the field took on a vacuous nature. Romney held the center stage with star power from his 2008 run.

Jon Huntsman, Rick Santorum, and Herman Cain were not national figures when this contest began in earnest about six months ago. Gingrich and Paul were, but held none of the presidential aura that some can see in Chris Christie and Jeb Bush. That basically left Romney as the heir apparent.

And even though he has the Big Mo working, even his historic wins seem slightly deflating.

Four years ago, he pulled 28 percent — after a last minute collapse — while finishing second to John McCain in New Hampshire. Tuesday he garnered 39 percent or just about what he was supposed to have gotten since he “lives” in the state — one of his houses is in New Hampshire, at least — and he has been campaigning there for more than 4 years. There is clearly a big portion of the republican electorate that just cannot seem to get fully behind the former Massachusetts governor.

Whether it is his Mormon background, his ties to Wall Street or his spawning of universal healthcare, his hold on the nomination is far from secure. The fact that Ron Paul finished a strong second with 22 percent of the vote is a sign that the philosophical chasm in the republican party will be a challenge for Romney going forward.

The next two contests — South Carolina Jan. 21 and Florida Jan. 31 — are not going to be a cakewalk for Romney, no matter how much his campaign and some in the media want to anoint him as the winner. Gingrich was leading in both states by double-digit margins a few weeks ago before the glean on his campaign was tarnished by his past and relatively poor performances as a potential president. The most recent poll in South Carolina, conducted by Insider Advantage Jan. 11 has Romney leading Gingrich by a scant 2 percentage points, though. Santorum and Paul, at 14 and 13 percent respectively are still within shouting range a mere nine days before the election. Gingrich had been leading by 17 points Jan. 3.

Florida looks a bit better for Romney right now, according to a Survey USA poll Jan. 8 that puts his lead at a comfortable 11 points over Gingrich, with Rick Santorum surging. As in South Carolina, Gingrich was leading by double-digits in Florida until the New Year when he collapsed. Romney and Santorum were the prime beneficiaries of Gingrich’s fall from dominance down South, but Ron Paul, too, has made some gains. Especially since his second-place (by a nose) finish in New Hampshire.

Romney can’t win them all — and he shouldn’t — but even though he has the Big Mo right now, he will be most vulnerable to take a hit or two down South at the end of the month.

If he does, he could be finished because he is a front-running politician. If Santorum or Gingrich can take one of two down South then nab their fair share in Nevada, Maine, Colorado, Minnesota, Arizona, Michigan and Washington before Super Tuesday March 6, they might just tarnish Romney’s presidential armor.

Romney won the Massachusetts governorship and was the odds-on favorite before McCain out-campaigned him in New Hampshire in 2008. He can’t win if he falls behind. His only campaigning skill is to out-executive his competition.

Unfortunately for him, that tactic it is as effective as a cleaning a barbecue grill with a feather duster when running from behind.

A few days after New Hampshire, though, and that Big Mo is still with him. If he can keep it and sweep South Carolina and Florida, the race just might be over in every meaningful sense.

But then he will have to out-executive Barack Obama.

Have fun with that, Mitt.

John Monahan is a freelance writer from Fairfield, Conn.
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