New and improved Romney

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  February 12, 2010

Costa also acknowledges that the resistance to Romney was due to more than religion: his claims of conservative beliefs were belied by a history whose traces were dredged up and disseminated on blog sites and YouTube.

Not only did Southerners doubt his commitment to conservative causes; the flip-flops made him look like exactly the last thing they warm to: a slick, double-talking Northern businessman.

Super duper day
To win the Republican nomination without the South, Romney needs a blue-state strategy. By sweeping winner-take-all delegate primaries in the Northeast, the West Coast, and the industrial North, he could capture the GOP ticket.

To work, political analysts say, Romney will need the primary schedule to remain similar to the one in place in 2008. That year, only four states were authorized to hold contests before the official "window" opened on February 5 — after which it was open season. Unsurprisingly, states eager for attention raced to the front of that window (and several, including Michigan and Florida, defied the rules by going even earlier). Just a month after the first caucus, candidates were forced to compete coast-to-coast, in 21 states — including huge prizes like New York, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Jersey — on what became known as "Super-Duper Tuesday." By the end of that day, more than half the convention delegates had been assigned.

Romney, with his name recognition, vast money supplies, and held-over national operation, can obviously play on such a vast scale in such a short time frame; his competitors are likely to be at a severe disadvantage.

But, as Giuliani demonstrated, even a well-known, well-funded candidate needs some momentum heading into that big day. That means Romney — unlike Giuliani — must win at least one of the four "pre-window" contests.

Those will be caucuses in Iowa and Nevada, and primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Nevada, a low-turnout caucus in a heavily Mormon state, will likely be conceded to Romney, as it was in 2008 — which means he'll get no credit or attention for winning it.

If Romney couldn't win over Iowa's Christian conservatives in '08 — when he spent millions there, and McCain and Giuliani skipped the state — it's hard to see how he can do so in '12. Especially when a number of conservatives with strong religious credentials from nearby states are likely to be competing, including Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Mike Pence of Indiana, and John Thune of South Dakota.

If South Carolina is out of reach — and bear in mind that Romney finished fourth there in '08 after devoting three years and millions upon millions of dollars — that means Romney must win New Hampshire, particularly in that it's in his back yard.

"He needs to win one before Super Tuesday," says Dennehy. "And I would agree that he needs to win New Hampshire."

That may be easier said than done. Potential competitors are already traipsing through the Granite State: Pence is coming in March, and Pawlenty is due back soon for the second time in three months. Several Republicans in New Hampshire say there are numerous candidates who could recapture the "Straight Talk" appeal that McCain used to win the state twice — something that the prevaricating Romney would seem unlikely to do.

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  Topics: Talking Politics , Social Issues, Harvard Business School, John McCain,  More more >
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