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Election 2012: How Romney might lead on new Washington terrain

Romney White House scenarios beyond a top-down CEO approach. A two-part election 2012 report profiles the stark differences and interesting similarities of a second-term Obama White House vs. a Romney White House – either of which would have to deal with a highly polarized Congress.

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And even if Romney learned a thing or two in Massachusetts about working with lawmakers, his experience there may have only limited relevance to Washington.

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"The legislature in Massachusetts was almost entirely Democratic; and in Washington, he'll face two parties in a divided and highly partisan Congress no matter the outcome of the congressional races this year," says Jeffrey Berry, a political scientist at Tufts University near Boston. "He'll also have to deal with a party of his own that is far to the right and where the energy of the party is coming from a lot of people who want him to go to war with the Democrats rather than try to find bipartisan solutions."

Romney has promised an action-packed Day 1 if elected. In one ad, he promised to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, introduce tax cuts, and "begin replacing Obamacare," starting with waivers to all 50 states. In another, he promised to announce deficit reductions, "stand up to China" on trade, and begin "repealing job-killing regulations."

Day 1 is probably more a metaphor than a literal to-do list for his first day in office. But the point is taken: He's champing at the bit to undo as much of Obama-ism as fast as he can. What he doesn't say is that he'll need Congress to do it.

An Obamacare repeal would not be a done deal – even with Republican majorities in Congress. Along with a House majority, only a 51-vote Senate majority would be needed to repeal parts of the law. Repeal of other pieces would require a 60-vote Senate threshold to overcome a Democratic filibuster. Short of repeal, a Romney administration "would have a great deal of discretion to implement its policy choices," health law expert Timothy Jost writes on the Healthaffairs.org blog.

That's not the same as starting over on the more market-based health-care system Romney envisions.

Beyond eliminating a key piece of his predecessor's legacy, Romney would certainly want to put his own stamp on his presidency. Having promoted his expertise on job creation, he'd be under enormous pressure for quick results.

Then there's entitlement reform, the heart of running mate Paul Ryan's plan. Romney's version of that plan could be his signature initiative. The question is whether he'd have a voter mandate to remake the "big three"– Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

The answer may depend on the margin of victory, says Republican pollster David Winston. "When you win by a large percentage, that gives you momentum," he says.

If the latest polls are any guide, the victory margin for either candidate is likely to be slim. But after the first debate, which shifted momentum abruptly in Romney’s direction, it’s anybody’s guess how this race will wind up. The second presidential debate, on Oct. 16, will provide the next clues.

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