|Posted on January 23, 2012 at 9:15 AM|
It’s been a bad week for Mitt Romney. Ten days ago, he was looking at virtually tying up the Republican Party nomination with victory in South Carolina and moving on to Florida for the coronation.
But then things started to go wrong. He discovered he didn’t actually win the first contest in Iowa. A recount of the votes handed victory to his rival Rick Santorum. His performances in the two candidate debates in South Carolina were poor. Where before he appeared steady if unaccomplished suddenly he looked shaky and uncertain. Asked if he would release details of his tax returns, he joked and dodged and avoided, leaving many people to question what he was trying to hide. He said if he received the nomination, he would release them then. That didn’t go down well – so he suggested he’d release them when they were completed, which would be in April. Now he says he’ll release them on Tuesday. He admitted it has become an issue and he hasn’t dealt with it well.
Then he watched as a significant opinion poll lead in South Carolina disappeared in 72 hours to hand a stunning victory to former Speaker, Newt Gingrich. It’s a loss that again raises serious questions about Romney’s ability to win over large swathes of his own party.
And so, Romney is now campaigning in Florida. He has a healthy lead, he tied up many of the early postal ballots, but as we’ve seen leads can quickly change.
Yet there are many reasons why there is no need for the Romney campaign to panic.
It is well funded and well organised in Florida, much more so than Newt Gingrich or his other two rivals. That’s important because while the first three contests are about what they call retail politics- shaking hands and meeting voters face to face – Florida is so large the best way to get a message across is TV ads. And it is one of the most expensive states in the country in which to buy airtime. Gingrich even made an appeal for fresh funding during his victory speech in South Carolina, an acknowledgement his lack of finance could be an problem.
Then there is the election timetable. After Florida on January 21st, the contests that follow should favour Romney. There is Nevada on February 4th and Arizona on the 28th. Both have huge Mormon populations which many expect will largely back one of their own. There is also the vote in Michigan on the 28th, which is the state where Romney was born and grew up, where his father was Governor and where he won in 2008.
And there is the question of electability. National polls suggest in a straight match up with President Barack Obama, Romney would do better than any Gingrich or any other candidate. Although if the election was tomorrow, the polls say he still wouldn’t win.
Here’s the worrying thing for him and his campaign - the rapid disappearance of so many supporters suggests that Romney’s backing is soft, He remains vulnerable to attacks on aspects of his past and people still aren’t convinced that his work for an investment firm didn’t lead to the loss of many jobs while he was lining his own pockets.
Romney has changed tactics for Florida. We saw that begin with his speech to supporters in South Carolina. He’s gone on the offensive against Newt Gingrich, no longer leaving it to spokesman or prominent supporters. He is highlighting the well-known personal issues which surround the man who is now clearly his main rival. So a contest which has been rough and unpredictable up until this moment will become even more so. And it also means that this is a race that is far from over.