Losing a Battle, Romney Better Positioned for the Long War
A lot is being made right now about Michele Bachman’s triumph in the Ames contest yesterday. It is big news- it shows she has the support and organizational strength to take the caucuses by storm next February. But there is another man who has to be pleased by what he saw yesterday- Mitt Romney.
Michele Bachman received 4, 823 votes, narrowly edging Ron Paul and leaving Tim Pawlenty a distant third, a result that caused her fellow Minnesotan’s withdrawal from the race this morning. Rick Perry, not yet a candidate in the race, received 718 write-in votes, while Romney trailed with 567.
The results seem to bode well for Perry. With just a few campaign foot soldiers on the ground and a modest budget, he was able to best a national front-runner. But Perry’s campaign did invest in the Straw Poll, buying tickets for supporters and promoting their candidate.
Mitt Romney did nothing. And yet, 567 people bought their own 30 dollar tickets, drove their own cars and supported him at Ames on their own initiative.
Perry’s strength and Pawlenty’s collapse will be helpful to Romney in the early state battles for two reasons. First of all, the candidate who had hoped to position himself as the electable, mainstream alternative to Romney has been pushed out of the race. It was easy to see Pawlenty and Romney competing for the same pool of socially moderate, fiscally conservative primary voters in New Hampshire. Now Romney has that demographic all to himself.
Secondly, Rick Perry is more of an immediate problem for Michele Bachman, the Iowa frontrunner. The two candidates are from the same circle in the Republican Party; both have strong conservative credentials, both are outspoken champions for the Tea Party movement, both can appeal to the evangelical voters that propelled Mike Huckabee’s win in 2008.
It’s easy to see Romney’s path to the nomination with this dynamic in place. Bachman and Perry duke it out in Iowa. One of them wins, but perhaps not with a convincing plurality because of the other’s strong support and the small but determined backers of Ron Paul and Rick Santorum. Then the spotlight turns to New Hampshire, where Romney sweeps the independent vote, along with GOP moderates while Bachman and Perry split the conservative vote- the recipe for a convincing Romney thumping in the Granite State. A few days later, Romney wins the Mormon-heavy Nevada caucuses convincingly, giving him another important burst of momentum.
He faces a challenge in South Carolina ten days after Nevada, but two factors give him a hope in the state. The first is that he will have momentum from two convincing, early state wins. The second is that there will be no clear conservative alternative to Romney in the Palmetto State, with Perry and Bachman still very much alive and competing for first place.
If Romney pulls off an unlikely South Carolina win like John McCain’s in 2008, the nomination is essentially his. If he doesn’t he still has a legitimate shot, though it’s less than 50-50. He has the campaign infrastructure and the resources to survive a protracted nomination contest, though if he loses South Carolina he will need Florida before Super Tuesday.
It seems at this point that either Romney, Perry or Bachman will be the nominee, in that order of likelihood. Of course, there are so many factors, and still so much time before the first contest for delegates that it’s a fool’s errand to declare a presumptive nominee at this point. But the signs and tea leaves we can read now bode well for Romney, and in Bachman’s victory glow his star is shining brighter, too.