Nothing is certain yet — not a single vote has been cast, after all — but there's an increasingly good chance that Mitt Romney will win the Republican presidential nomination. If so, he'll be a non-stop presence in all of our lives, or at least on our television sets, through the November election.
Hell, we in Massachusetts will be seeing more of him than we did when he was governor.
So, here's a quick look at some key dates for Romney, and what you might want to keep an eye on when his face pops up on your TV screen. Remember, there's a lot at stake: if he wins, you get at least four more years of Mitt-watching.
JANUARY 3: IOWA CAUCUSES
After many months of acting like he wasn't competing for the votes of the Iowa Evangelical conservatives who rejected him four years ago, Romney is now in it to win it. That change of plan has come either because A) he thinks he needs to stop Newt Gingrich from winning Iowa; B) he thinks he can win Iowa and wrap up the nomination early; or C) he thinks it would be embarrassing to lose any state to the pathetic field of candidates opposing him.
Tune in to see . . . whether Romney can project a clean, positive image despite his Super PAC spending millions on dirty negative ads in Iowa. If so, that will be his formula for the rest of the election cycle.
JANUARY 10: NEW HAMPSHIRE PRIMARY
This is a must-win for Romney — the next contests are in Southern states where he still polls terribly among Republicans, even after all this time and all the money he's spent. Losing New Hampshire would be a catastrophe for the campaign, but ideally Romney wants a big, decisive win in New Hampshire. That would help convince the GOP — elites and rank-and-file — that he's going to be the nominee and they'd better get used to it.
Tune in to see . . .whether Romney gives a great victory speech. Unlike Barack Obama, who used early election-night TV coverage to show the rest of the country what the fuss was all about, Romney's 2008 election-night speeches ranged from forgettable to painful. (On the other hand, John McCain's were excruciating, and he still won the nomination.)
JANUARY 31: SUPER PAC REPORT DUE + FLORIDA PRIMARY
For reasons too complicated to get into here, the last day of January is the first time that the Romney-backing Restore Our Future "Super PAC" will disclose any of its contributors since June 30. That political-action committee, run by former Romney staffers, can take unlimited contributions— several million-dollar donors are already known.
It's quite possible that, when the Restore Our Future report comes out, it will be revealed that a small number of extremely wealthy Wall Street titans have been spending fortunes to ensure Romney's victory. That might not look so good — which might be one reason the Super PAC has maneuvered to push back its report date to January 31.
If the stars are aligned for Romney, he will have won that day's Florida primary, and effectively clinched the nomination, before Restore Our Future hits "send" on its report at roughly 11:55 pm.