The rise and rise and Mitt Romney

Dateline: 31 January 2007

If you were devising a candidate for a presidential run, what would you throw into the mix? Executive experience, obviously, so probably a governor. But not a policy wonk or professional politician: someone with private sector experience as well. A proven ability to win in territory inhospitable to your party would be a good thing. Ties to some of the early voting primary states and key swing states would be useful. Strong ties to tight regions like the Mid-West and interior West, where there are many swing states, would certainly help. Family connections have proved useful in the past. Oh, and good hair!

Though opinion polls – which mostly measure name recognition at this point – show Rudy Giuliani and John McCain as Republican front runners, with no-one else cracking double figures, most commentators and bloggers talk about the ‘big three’. In poll ratings, Mitt Romney doesn’t qualify – but most are expecting that he will before Iowa and New Hampshire vote in January 2008.

In, Iowa, he is a Mid-westerner. His father was Governor of Michigan. In New Hampshire, however they already know him as the just retired Governor of Massachusetts. Most people in the Granite State pick up the Boston media market. The next cluster of states to vote includes several in the Mid-West, including Michigan itself.

As the race moves westward, Romney will remind people that he ran the successful Salt Lake City Olympics – rescuing it from scandal. He is LDS (Latter Day Saints, or Mormon), and LDS voters are a majority in Utah and significant minorities in Idaho, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and California. In the general election Nevada, Colorado and possibly Arizona will be key swing states.

This business of having three home states – Massachusetts, Michigan and Utah – is a powerful asset.

Romney was a brilliant businessman and seems to have a strong family life, and there is much about him that you would include in your ideal fantasy candidate. But there is also much that you would not.

There is the question of religion. To many voters this is fundamental. As recently as 1960 people genuinely worried if it was possible for America to elect a Catholic. Is America ready for a Mormon? Some mainstream Protestants denounce the LDS Church as a heretic cult. While it is true that some say the same of Catholics, experience and acceptance of Catholics is much wider.

Winning in Massachusetts is obviously quite an achievement for a Republican. But Romney’s statements on abortion, especially in his unsuccessful 1994 Senate run against Ted Kennedy, put him at odds with most Republican primary voters. It is true that he now professes quite different views, but the timing of his conversion seems too convenient for some.

Many people see Romney as the coming man. And this applies not just to his dedicated army of supporters. Backers of John McCain in particular devote a lot of their fire at Romney. With the general public his profile remains low, but he is organizationally strong in all the key states. Most of all, he seems to have got his timing right. Many is the candidate – Howard Dean, Phil Gramm – whose bubble burst before the first votes were cast. Romney is planning to peak in 2008, not 2007.

Quentin Langley is editor of an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.

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