1. BURST THE BUBBLE Front-runners' campaigns often make the candidate seem distant and inaccessible. They hold large events, usually packed with die-hard supporters. A coterie of handlers surrounds them. They shake hands and chat with key endorsers and organizers, rather than ordinary voters. Speeches are carefully scripted, with little spontaneity. They grant few interviews.
In political circles, it's called being in a campaign bubble. Sometimes it works, promoting an aura of popularity, and even inevitability, while minimizing the gaffes that every reporter and opposing campaign are waiting to exploit. It's how Martha Coakley won the Democratic primary for US Senate — but also how she lost the general election to Scott Brown.
That approach definitely doesn't fly in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary. Romney needs to find ways to get outside the bubble and show that he's doing the retail politics of talking directly with voters.
2. STOP SLUTTING To voters, front-runners are the steady girlfriend they leave to play the field. They chase one sexy come-on after another, looking for their flawless ideal, only to be ultimately disappointed. In the end, when it comes time to make a commitment, they come back home.
It seldom helps when the shunned girlfriend tries to win her man back by tarting herself up to be more like the sluts he's chasing.
Sadly, this is Romney's M.O. Being the business consultant that he is, Romney obsesses over any loss of market share, and tries to reposition his product — himself — to win it back.
It's become particularly problematic for Romney, who has earned a reputation for changing his spots and telling every new audience whatever he thinks they want to hear.
Romney needs to burn those new blue jeans he's started wearing, can the Constitution-in-peril Tea Party talk, and stop flipping his story about health-care reform.
Instead, he should admit to voters that last time around he may have tried too hard to please and listened too much to high-priced consultants and their voter-polling data. This time, he should say, he's just going to be himself, from day one through the election — and then he should do it.
3. BE KIND TO A WINGNUT Romney has little prayer of winning the predominantly Christian-conservative Republican contests in Iowa and South Carolina. His transparent strategy is to convince the media — and through them, the public — that he's sure to be trounced there. Then, he hopes to gain momentum by beating expectations — perhaps by finishing second or third.
That's smart, but someone else still gets to win those states — someone who entered the campaign as a long shot, since everyone other than Romney is. The Iowa and South Carolina winners will have far more momentum than the front-runner who pulled off surprisingly respectable showings.
In particular, whoever wins Iowa — likely Tim Pawlenty or Haley Barbour — will become the surging non-Romney candidate, knocking out most of the others. That leaves a two-person race in which Romney fights to (maybe) hold onto Northeastern states like New Hampshire, while his opponent chalks up easy wins throughout the South and the heartland.
That's a tough road for Romney.
What he needs instead is an Iowa winner whom the Republican Party will rally to destroy. Romney needs a wingnut.