Mitt Romney's has managed to stay in contact, but can he survive a second loss?

For all the talk of Hillary Clinton's sudden collapse, Mitt Romney's fate is more stunning. Hillary was never ahead in Iowa, and her New Hampshire lead was always read accordingly; but polls up to the end of November had Romney up big in both Iowa and New Hampshire, and it is only about 25 days ago that his New Hampshire edge started eroding at all.

Then again, it is remarkable that Romney has lost his New Hampshire lead without going down in the polls at all. He has held steady around 30%, the mark he has been at for months. What changed, of course, is that Giuliani's support collapse and most of his supporters went to McCain, giving the AZ Senator a huge boost and putting him in pole position heading into tomorrow.

The Politico's Jonathan Martin identifies one of the main reason for Romney's trouble: the Union Leader's decision to not only endorse McCain, but to continually boost his candidacy by writing glowing front-page unsigned editorials and blasting Romney on that same space on the front-page just as frequently. And there is evidence that the Union Leader's news department was also influenced by the paper's editorial line (something publications are very prompt to defend themselves from usually). The conservative paper's role in McCain's rise cannot be understated.

Yesterday, I identified a list of reasons Romney still had a chance to win New Hampshire, first and foremost the fact that independents -- the group McCain needs to come out big tomorrow -- are now choosing to vote in the Democratic primary instead because of the Obama buzz. And today's polls confirm that Mitt Romney has managed to stay in contact; he leads in Suffolk and trails within the margin of error in some of the other surveys. Romney will also be helped by both of this week-end's debates (yes, including Saturday's) whose effect has not yet been picked up by polls.

But what happens if Romney is defeated tomorrow? The conventional wisdom has long held that Romney had to win Iowa or New Hampshire to stay in the running given his lack of name recognition nationally and the amount of money he had spent in both contests. This CW developed at a time, of course, where Romney was the overwhelming favorite to win both. And I myself have believed it to be entirely true and written about it on this blog numerous times. But with a few hours to go before polls open in the Granite State, I would like to revise my assesment. I am no longer sure Romney would be out of contention if he lost tomorrow.

For one, Romney is at the center of the Republican discussion -- and the expectation game in Iowa helped him a bit. If anything, he got boosted a little by the Iowa results in New Hampshire rather than the collapse we were all expecting to see. While it is unlikely that he will stay as relevant in later states if he loses tomorrow, he will be the only candidate to have been in contention for the win twice in a row; he would have come in second in two states, and have won Wyoming in the meantime. Compare that to McCain and Huckabee's inconsistent showings, and Romney will have a great chance to make the case that he is the candidate with the broadest appeal among the GOP base. In a week, Michigan will offer him another great opportunity to stay in contention and prove that he is waging the best national campaign. And lastly, Romney has no money problem; as long as he thinks he has a chance of getting the nomination, he will donate as much as he needs to to his own campaign.

Will Romney's hopes sink dramatically if he fails to pull off a come-back tomorrow night? You bet. But he will still have a higher chance of emerging as the Republican nominee than Hillary will if she loses tomorrow. And that's not something anyone would have predicted 10 days ago.

Update: The day's last New Hampshire poll was just relesed and gives McCain one of his biggest leads of the day while showing some (insufficient and ) small Clinton come-back:

  • Among Republicans, McCain is ahead 31% to 24% with Huckabee at 14% and Giuliani at 13%. The bottom-line: Both Huck and Giuliani have risen, McCain and Romney combined have lost 7% in one day -- the negative attacks are taking a toll on both candidates.
  • Among Democrats, Obama rose 1 to 40% and Clinton rose 3% to 31%, with Obama at 22%.
We'll know soon enough whether McCain was hurt more than Romney and if Clinton can limit her losses enough.



  • At this point, I doubt whether Romney can win Michigan without a strong New Hampshire showing. A Detroit paper has endorsed McCain, and Huckabee's populism may make some inroads in the state. Honestly, I think what's happening to Romney is a bit of a shame...he's just now becoming the candidate he should have been all along, the one who would have sewn up the nomination had he emerged earlier.

    And isn't it absolutely astonishing what has happened to Clinton? She'd better hope (and so had McCain) that a lot more independents choose to vote in the GOP primary than is currently the case. Then again, in these last few days, positivity hasn't helped her, negativity hasn't helped her, playing the experience card hasn't helped her, playing the change card hasn't helped her, playing the female card hasn't helped her...yikes. And here I thought the Clinton name might carry her through in NH.

    By Anonymous Mr. Rational, At 08 January, 2008 02:23  

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