Mitt Romney is formally in the presidential race per his announcement Thursday at a hot-dog and chili cookout at a New Hampshire farm. Will he do better in the 2012 election cycle than he did last time around?
Mr. Romney’s 2008 try for the White House didn’t go that well, after all. The well-funded ex-governor of Massachusetts thought he could burst out of the starting blocks with wins in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. Instead, he finished well behind the surprising Mike Huckabee in the former and lost to eventual nominee Sen. John McCain in the latter. His candidacy was burnt toast within weeks.
There’s reason to believe he’ll be more successful with this attempt. He’s been the front-runner in almost all preseason polls, hovering at about 22 to 24 percent of the GOP primary vote. Perhaps more important, he’s liked, if not well liked. His Gallup Positive Intensity Score (produced by subtracting the percentage of voters who have a highly unfavorable opinion of him from the percentage who have a highly favorable one) is about 14, which is decent. Minnesota ex-governor Tim Pawlenty and former you-know-what Sarah Palin score about the same.
He’s also clearly trying to lower expectations for his early performance. He’s made few appearances in New Hampshire and virtually none in Iowa. That’s smart, if you think the press might write you off if you stumble in those states. Romney’s strategy this time appears geared to a longer-distance trot than an early-state sprint. He’s got lots of cash. He’s got a network of support across the United States, built on the remnants of his 2008 try. He’s well positioned in the early primary states of New Hampshire (where he has a vacation home, and which neighbors the state where he was governor), Michigan (where he grew up and his dad was a beloved governor), and Nevada (which has many voters of Romney’s Mormon faith).
This time, it looks like Romney wants to grind through the campaign to the point where his coronation as nominee looks, and then becomes, inevitable.
And yet, and yet ...
There’s something about Mitt that does not make voters want to pull the lever, as ward bosses used to say. He’s the dutiful son underappreciated by his parents, the veteran utility infielder whose jersey fans don’t buy, the assistant manager trusted to open the store but not to deal with the big spending customers.
“The bottom line on Romney is that he certainly has name ID; that’s not his problem right now. He’s just not attracting a lot of intense support among Republicans, which he’d need if he were to face off against Barack Obama next year,” said Gallup editor in chief Frank Newport earlier this spring.
Here’s a thought: Romney’s chances of winning may depend on how well he channels his inner Bill Clinton.
Remember the mantra of Mr. Clinton’s 1992 presidential race? “It’s the economy, stupid.” Romney hopes that’s still as true today as it was in the 1990s. With unemployment high and the economy struggling to get back on track, Romney has made his economic credentials almost the sole focus of his campaign rhetoric.
“I believe I can get our economy going again,” Romney said in an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday.
Gone is the Mitt who talked like a concerned social conservative in 2008, calling himself “the most conservative candidate in the race.” He says Mr. Obama’s health-care reforms should be repealed, but he won’t repudiate the similar state plan he signed as governor of Massachusetts. Asked about the "Romneycare" plan on the “Today” show, he said simply, “What we did was solve a very serious need that existed in our state.”
Will this play well with the GOP primary electorate? Conservative commentators don’t think so. On his RedState blog, analyst Erick Erickson this week ran down the Republican contenders. “[T]oo much baggage to cross the finish line,” he said of Romney.