Mitt Romney: The Republicans' safest bet?
Whether the "safest" candidate is necessarily the best candidate is debatable. Mitt Romney exudes the confidence of a presidential candidate, but can he beat the competition?
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney ran for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2008 after sinking $35 million of his own money into the campaign. At the time he was a candidate with low name recognition and surrounded by a fog of uncomfortable doubt due to his Mormon faith.
This time around he was the first to declare that he was creating a 'presidential exploratory committee' but peculiarly he was not one of the first to declare his candidacy formally.
In many ways his campaign after 2008 never stopped as he maintained most of his political staff in order to continue building a political infrastructure on the ground.
You could almost say his invisible primary season started the day after Obama was inaugurated. Romney's activities have included releasing a New York Times bestselling book entitled No Apology: The Case for American Greatness as well as campaigning and fund raising at the local grassroots level for many Republican candidates; particularly during the 2010 midterms.
He did a lot for Scott Brown who became junior Senator in Romney’s home state of Massachusetts after the death of Ted Kennedy. No doubt this work has won him political favour within the party and its leadership as well as making him more of a known and comfortable quantity with the Republican base who, in 2008, knew relatively little about the Mormon former Governor of a northern liberal state.
Unlike the other big GOP names in 2008, Huckabee and Palin, Romney has not been so visible on a national level. Palin has so far denied that she is formally running in 2012 despite her book Going Rogue and many public appearances including her current "One Nation" bus tour.
She is yet to cite a reason that adequately satisfies the mainstream media but the truth may be that, unlike Romney, she has time on her side.
She could well use the next four years to fine tune her political skills and raise even more money to lock down the Presidency when she, if ever, runs for it. The GOP has a tendency to nominate the guy who is 'next-in-line' as seen with the likes of John McCain and Bob Dole, and in four years Palin is more likely to be that person than she is now.
The signature achievement of Romney’s political career thus far are the Massachusetts health care reforms he led and oversaw whilst he was Governor between 2003 and 2007.
This is largely viewed as a resounding success but could also prove to be his Achilles heel as "ObamaCare" operates on a similar, but not identical, model.
Obama’s health care legislation is somewhat controversial to say the very least and it is vehemently opposed by fiscal conservatives and the conservative base as a whole. The problem for Romney is that he must find a way to distance himself from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act if he is to shore up mainstream Republican support; where he is relatively weak compared to the support he receives from the moderate end of the party.
Romney is not the darling of the conservative base like Palin, so if he does not manage to disassociate himself from "ObamaCare" during the invisible primary and spends the rest of primary season trying to do so then he won’t be anywhere close to being the Republican nominee for President, despite what recent poll figures may show.
A lot of that may be out of his hands and depends on how much his opponents try to tar him with the "ObamaCare" brush, as well as to what extent commentators decide to play up the association.
So far, Romney has come top, or near the top of various polls in the last year or so including the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll, Southern Republican Leadership Conference straw poll and most recently the New Hampshire Straw Poll. The National Journal released a poll of political insiders in April that found the majority of Republicans thought Romney would be the nominee and a plurality of Democrats thought he would be too.
Of course it is still early days in the build up to primary season but what you are seeing now is prospective nominees jockeying for position so they can get the best start possible once the full glare of the American media is upon them and the race starts proper.
In the case of Romney he knows that 2012 is his window of opportunity because he, like every other Republican politician the wrong side of 50, knows that Palin will attempt to run one day in the future and nobody commands the adulation of the grassroots conservative quite like The Barracuda at the moment. Although she herself may struggle to maintain her place in the limelight as the stars of state Governors Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley rise.
(We'll get onto Michelle Bachmann in another session.)
Whilst Romney would seemingly be one of the established candidates, the primary season has in the past derailed the surest of campaigns and brought people out of obscurity to national prominence: Whether it be a former beauty pageant participant Governor of a politically lightweight state or a basketball mad first-term junior Senator who alludes to rap music in his speeches.
We can only hope that 2012 will prove to be as exciting.
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