In talking to the Mitt Romney campaign yesterday afternoon, it became apparent that at present the thinking is that there is no need to take on Newt Gingrich. Not yet. The media nearly every day uncover more issues and concerns about his record. There is also, frankly, the sense that Gingrich has the capacity, if not tendency, to blow himself up. That said, I also found recognition that at some point it may become necessary for Romney to engage Gingrich.
As far as Iowa goes, the campaign continues to dispute the notion that much of anything has changed in its approach to the caucus state. Romney always intended, a staffer told me, to participate in Iowa. And as December wears on, he will be there more frequently.
The campaign, trying to keep expectations low, won’t entertain the notion that Romney could win Iowa. The betting from the Romney camp is that turnout will be high. If that is true, simply retaining the 30,000 votes he collected in 2008 could well fall short of the number of votes needed. The goal is simply, they insist, not to do poorly.
Romney has some timing in his favor. He is far ahead in New Hampshire and will then enjoy the stage if he wins there. He’ll be a winner going into South Carolina. Moreover, shortly after New Hampshire, the mail-in ballots go out in Florida. The lion’s share of these are returned in the first few days. In short, when Romney hopes to be enjoying his moment in the sun, Florida voters (about half of whom vote by mail) will be casting their votes. There is a reason he and other candidates are popping up in Florida sooner rather than waiting until January.
Romney’s staffers are only too happy to engage with the White House, as they did yesterday when the White House and a slew of liberal outlets went bonkers over Romney’s first TV ad. (Romney’s ad makers took a soundbite of President Obama quoting Sen. John McCain saying that his side would lose if they talked only about the economy.) But the overwhelming reaction was amazement that the White House freaked out as it did. They take that as a sign that Obama regards Romney as his biggest threat.
For Romney, as we saw in the debate last night, other candidates can take swings at Gingrich. Gingrich will make errors. He is the anti-Romney — undisciplined, bombastic and prone to verbal gaffes. Romney for a little while can largely ride above the fray. But at some point if Gingrich doesn’t bring himself down, I’d expect a trip down memory lane care of the Romney team, featuring the worst moments of Old Newt.