If former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney runs for president again in 2012, he will start with some distinct advantages over his likely opponents for the GOP nomination.
Polls show that Romney has very high name recognition among likely Republican primary voters. He has retained a national network of staff and organizers from his 2008 campaign. And most important, he can still raise enormous sums of money, as shown by the $3.4 million brought in this year for his political action committee (PAC) — more than double the haul of potential rivals, including Sarah Palin and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty.
But those advantages might not matter as much as they have in recent election cycles, if new proposals from the Republican National Committee (RNC) take effect.
The RNC has taken major steps this summer toward defining the 2012 calendar, so that the primary contests start later, and are less bunched together, than in 2008 — when 28 states held their Republican nominating elections by February 5.
The RNC's suggested 2012 schedule would start in February, with contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.
Then, to dissuade states from crowding forward into a "Super-Duper Tuesday," the RNC would reward states that wait until at least April, by letting them hold "winner-take-all" primaries. Most state GOP parties prefer that, because it heightens the stakes, enticing candidates to come campaign in the state.
States holding their nominating contests in March would have to use a proportional system, under which candidates can win delegates with a second- or even third-place finish.
If adopted, and if states react as party leaders hope, the rules would lead to a slower-paced nomination process, with candidates building up their delegate totals bit by bit over several months.
That slow-down is deliberate; party leaders believe that there are political drawbacks to settling on a nominee in February. (For one thing, the media largely stops paying attention until the late-summer convention.)
But a broader concern, two Republicans close to the process tell the Phoenix, was ensuring a full vetting of the winning candidate on the campaign trail. GOP party leaders don't want a celebrity candidate like Sarah Palin — or worse, some Rand Paul–like flavor-of-the-month — sweeping to the nomination.
Those same Republican insiders acknowledge that the proposed schedule could reduce the advantage for someone like Romney — who is one of the few who could compete in states all over the country right away.
But Romney may also find benefits under the new system. In particular, an increase in proportional contests should help him avoid the delegate shutout he suffered in the South's winner-take-all primaries in 2008. Never underestimate Romney's ability to make the most out of any circumstances.