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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Quietly Running for President

When a candidate for President of the United States publicly talks about his or her campaign strategy, it’s typically because there are questions about said candidate’s viability that need to be addressed by the articulation of a plausible path to victory. That’s usually not the case with a candidate who is consistently running first in national polls. But in an interview with Piers Morgan, Mitt Romney went out of his way to let people know he was going to be pretty scarce on the early campaign trail, to the point where he claimed to be happy that Sarah Palin stepped on his formal announcement speech:

“In a lot of respects it’s the best thing that could happen to me,” he said on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight.”
“Right now, your greatest enemy is overexposure. People get tired of seeing the same person day in and day out”….
“People are going to start focusing on the elections probably after Labor Day,” he said.
“For us, I’m not doing a lot of TV – just a couple of very key interviews where I get a chance to talk about things I care about,” Romney revealed.
“Until Labor Day hits I’m going be pretty quiet.”

I’d say this solves any mystery about whether Romney is going to succumb to the temptation created by his relatively high Iowa poll numbers to compete in the August Iowa State GOP Straw Poll, unless he’s figured out a way to get thousands of Mitt-o-Maniacs on buses to Ames on August 13 without making any noise. He could still theoretically go for broke in the Caucuses a few months later, since a win might well propel him to the kind of winning streak that could lock up the nomination. But Iowa Caucus-goers tend to look dimly on candidates who refuse to help them hoover up money at the Straw Poll, which is the state party’s principal fundraiser.
More generally, his remarks indicate that he really does seem committed to a late start for his campaign. If he more or less skips Iowa, his strong position in New Hampshire and Nevada would indeed make it less important for him to get out there early. But this strategy runs the risk of exposing him to a slow bleed of support as other candidates pound him on RomneyCare day in and day out. It’s not as though his major problem is the possibility of committing some new gaffe; he committed his big gaffe by signing health reform legislation in Massachusetts in 2006, and then defending it to the point of no return.
Perhaps Mitt thinks if he marshals his resources carefully, he can manage early expectations and then drown the rest of the field in a sea of money. But contrary to his claim that nobody’s paying attention to the campaign, a lot of impressions are going to be made among Republican elites and the rank-and-file as well between now and Labor Day, and he’ll just have to accept the hand he’s dealt after rivals have begun to shape the contest.

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