The Realist in Romney Saw a Path Too Steep

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney dropped his bid for the GOP nomination following a disappointing Super Tuesday. Romney was speaking at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference in Washington. Video by AP
By Michael D. Shear, Chris Cillizza and Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 8, 2008

Mitt Romney wanted to know how bad things really were.

After six weeks of losses, culminating in Tuesday's embarrassing finish in all of the big-state contests, he gathered his inner circle Wednesday morning at the campaign's North End headquarters in Boston. Still very much the corporate fix-it man, whose methodical approach to business had made him the multimillion-dollar personal fortune he was now spending at an alarming rate, Romney had ordered up formal presentations on whether to keep fighting against a surging Sen. John McCain.

One adviser assessed the communications and messaging challenges of staying in the race. Another described tactics. A third offered the financial bottom line. Another mapped out the difficult, state-by-state path Romney would face as an underdog trying to catch up to McCain in the Republican delegate count.

"There was a path," said a top aide who helped develop one of the presentations. "There was absolutely zero room for error. And then, it was, at best, probably not more than a 20 percent chance."

Despite the grim outlook, Romney announced no decision. Flanked by his wife, Ann, his son Tagg and his former business partner Bob White, he listened, asked questions, jotted notes on a legal pad. Then he left for home to write his speech for yesterday's conference of conservative activists. The draft he e-mailed to top aides just after dinnertime said he was "standing aside" for the good of the Republican Party.

"That was when we knew," said a senior adviser.

For a year, Romney had been the only candidate to put his money and organizational resources in all the early-voting states even as his rivals picked their battles. He faced former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee in Iowa, McCain in New Hampshire and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in Florida. In each place, he lost.

But he soldiered on, spending an estimated $50 million of his personal funds -- 20 percent of his publicly stated net worth -- and believing all the way until the Super Tuesday mega-primary, his advisers said privately, that the nomination could be his. In the days leading up to Tuesday, he poured more than $1 million into television ads in California, a primary he ended up losing big.

"We thought if we won California we could keep on keeping on," a senior Romney aide recalled.

But the calendar was against Romney. To stop McCain, he would have to win virtually all of the delegates in every contest in every state left to vote. And so, a campaign that began with seemingly limitless resources and enormous hype ended with an admission by Romney that his carefully plotted strategy had failed to lift an unknown former governor to the head of his party.

"As of today, more than 4 million people have given me their vote for president, less than Senator McCain's 4.7 million, but quite a statement nonetheless," Romney told the activists in Washington yesterday. "Eleven states have given me their nod, compared to his 13." He paused, looking drawn and tired, then added: "Of course, because size does matter, he's doing quite a bit better with his number of delegates."

The Midnight Riders

At the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., last February, when he announced his 2008 bid, the perfectly coiffed, ramrod-straight ex-governor looked like the ideal Republican candidate -- a conservative who seemed certain to face either McCain or Giuliani, both men whose moderate credentials would force them to run as centrists.

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