Mitt Romney’s muddled march to the GOP nomination

at 06:30 AM ET, 03/08/2012

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney will almost certainly be the Republican presidential nominee when the party gathers in Tampa, Fla., to pick its standard-bearer this summer.


Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his wife Ann walk past rolls of sheet metal as they arrive at a campaign rally at American Posts in Toledo, Ohio, Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
His path to Tampa in the aftermath of Super Tuesday, however, seems virtually certain to be marked not by a triumphant coronation but rather by a decidedly unglamorous process of delegate accumulation that will almost certainly force him to lose a series of battles in order to ultimately win the nomination war.

Those twin realities pose a fascinating strategic conundrum for the former Massachusetts governor’s political inner circle: How does he approach the remainder of the nomination fight when it’s clear he will almost certainly come up short in a number of states before he can ultimately emerge triumphant?

The Romney team is, not surprisingly, not talking. E-mails to Romney’s media consultant, pollster and communications director from your friendly Fix on this very topic all went un-returned.

But, other strategists within the party are offering their own takes, also not surprisingly. Those opinions generally fall into two camps.

The first is that Romney should act in the coming weeks and months as though he is already the nominee, ignoring his Republican rivals and focusing all of his energy on framing the race against President Obama in the fall.

“Focus on Obama first, second and third,” advised Mark McKinnon, who served as the lead media consultant for President George W. Bush’s presidential campaigns.

Romney, at least in his victory speech on Super Tuesday, seemed to be following that strategic course. He congratulated his rivals on their successes; “Thanks, you guys,” Romney said in the speech. “Nice races.” (Soooooo awkward.)

Romney spent the remainder of the speech, which could easily have doubled as his Tampa acceptance address, bashing away at Obama’s handling of the economy. “The debts today are too high, the opportunities are too few, and we’ve seen enough of this president over the last three years to know that we don’t need another five of this president,” Romney said at one point.

In politics, perception often creates reality. If Romney looks and acts like the nominee for the next few months, it’s possible that, regardless of a series of state primary losses, Republican voters will eventually begin seeing him that way too.

And, if there is anything the fractious Republican electorate can agree on, it’s a distaste for Obama and a collective desire to see him ousted from office in November.

The second strategic approach being tossed around by senior political professionals in the party is that Romney can’t afford to go on an extended losing streak — whether or not the delegate math is virtually determinative for him. That line of thinking is driven by the idea that, while the delegate race matters hugely, the perception race can’t simply be ignored either.

The solution, these folks argue, is for Romney to elevate some lower-profile primaries and caucuses over the next few weeks — starting with Puerto Rico, which is slated to hold its primary on March 18.

Romney has been endorsed by Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno and is expected to win on the Isle of Enchantment. There are also votes in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam — both March 10 caucuses — before the end of the month.

Wins in those places when coupled with a likely Romney victory in Hawaii (March 13) and Illinois (March 20) would give him enough wins in the month of March to weather any perception that a frontrunner who doesn’t rack up “W’s” isn’t the frontrunner anymore.

It’s not clear which of those two paths Romney will ultimately choose — or whether he will forge a third way — in the aftermath of Super Tuesday.

But what is clear is that while Romney seems nearly certain to arrive in Tampa as the Republican presidential nominee, the journey to get there may not be one he wants to remember for long.

No more debates?: It looks like that may be it for debates.

Romney’s campaign hasn’t been too keen on any more debates, and now Rick Santorum says he’s over them as well.

Santorum spokesman Hogan Gidley told The Hill that the candidate “no plan for any more debates right now,” citing the fact that there have already been 20 of them.

Newt Gingrich has said he’s in for a scheduled debate later this month in Oregon, but neither Romney nor Santorum are on-board, as of now.

New ad hits Rehberg: A new 501(c)(4) nonprofit group is going up with a $400,000 ad buy against Rep. Denny Rehberg (R) in the Montana Senate race.

The ad from the Citizens for Strength and Security Fund hits Rehberg for accepting a pay raise after promising not to in the 1990s.

“To cut the deficit, tell Congressman Rehberg to cut waste like that first,” the narrator says.

Rehberg is running against Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) in a top-targeted race for the GOP.

Fixbits:

Santorum clarifies that he’s not calling for Gingrich to get out of the race, though he wouldn’t mind it if he did.

Obama scoffs at Gingrich’s promise of lower gas prices.

Vice President Biden hits the campaign trail.

New York Republicans seem to like the congressional redistricting map proposed by a state judge. The legislature has another week to act before the judge’s map may be the final one.

Republicans seek to turn the tables on Rush Limbaugh’s remarks, pointing out that comedian Bill Maher, who just donated $1 million to President Obama’s super PAC, has used similar verbiage when talking about Sarah Palin.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley (R) endorses Romney ahead of next week’s primary.

Efforts to draft Missouri state auditor Tom Schweich (R) into the state’s Senate race proceed.

Democratic National Convention Chairman and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa wants gay marriage on the party’s platform, despite Obama’s opposition.

Former Dallas Cowboy Daryl “Moose” Johnston will campaign for former ESPN analyst Craig James (R) in the state’s open Senate race.

Must-reads:

Romney campaign urges rivals to back out, saying delegate gap is too big” — Philip Rucker and David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post

One super PAC takes aim at incumbents of any party” — Paul Kane, Washington Post

As primary season drags on, Republicans are battling voter fatigue” — Paul Farhi and Manuel Roig-Franzia, Washington Post

HBO’s ‘Game Change’: Sarah Palin and the toxic political environment” — Hank Stuever, Washington Post

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