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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Romney’s the One!

Politico‘s Alexander Burns has an interesting report on the 2010 activities of alleged 2012 Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, comparing his midterm strategy to that of a very famous GOP candidate of the past:

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is grinding through the 2010 campaign state by state and district by district, adhering to a go-everywhere, never-say-no campaign schedule that will have recorded visits to 30 states before Election Day.
It’s an approach that sets him apart from other 2012 prospects in its plodding, comprehensive, Nixon-in-’66-like pace.

Other potential 2012 candidates, says Burns, are being far more selective in their midterm campaign activities, with some being constrained by other responsibilities (including elected office) and others focused on early-primary states. Romney’s approach, by contrast, seems to be aimed at creating pockets of support that could sustain a well-known, well-funded candidate like him even if he doesn’t knock out the competition early on:

[B]y establishing himself as a force in states beyond the early-primary circuit of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, Romney’s cementing his role as a party leader and laying the groundwork for a potential nomination fight that lasts well past the first round of small-state elections.
It’s a strategy that recalls former President Richard Nixon’s slow climb back to power after he lost the presidency in 1960 and the California governor’s race two years later: Gearing up to run for president in 1968, Nixon simply outcampaigned his competitors with a frenzy of activity in the 1966 midterms.

A lot has obviously changed since Nixon’s Long March to the nomination in 1968. Only 14 states had primaries that year; the debts Nixon was able to call in for his 1966 campaign activities were often directly redeemable in delegate votes. Even more importantly, Nixon benefitted from poor and irresolute opposition. Nelson Rockefeller decided at the last minute not to run (surprising and angering such early supporters as Spiro T. Agnew), then got back in too late. Mitt’s father, George, self-destructed before the first primary with his “I was brainwashed” comment about Vietnam. Ronald Reagan didn’t enter the race until just prior to the convention. Maybe Mitt Romney will get lucky and such potentially formidable candidates as Sarah Palin and his 2008 nemesis, Mike Huckabee, will take a pass, or will commit some disqualifying mistake. But Nixon’s 1968 luck, like that of John McCain in 2008, won’t be easy to replicate.
If he is indeed contemplating a 2012 strategy of surviving early setbacks and then using his money and national base to grind out a victory, Romney may, as Burns hints, be thinking of a different model: Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign, perhaps improved by the kind of attention to small caucus states that ultimately made the difference for Barack Obama. But it’s not entirely clear that Mitt Romney has the kind of celebrity power or hard core of committed supporters that both Democrats enjoyed in 2008. At this point, Romney’s main appeal, beyond his checkbook, is that he’s considered reasonably safe and sane by the news media; and that he’s basically acceptable to the party’s dominant conservative faction (among whom he was the favored candidate in 2008) and about as good as it’s going to get for the shrinking moderate wing. In these qualities he is indeed a lot like Richard Nixon in 1968, but he has a very long way to go to establish himself as The One.

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