Mitt Romney raised the most out of the Republican presidential candidates in the first quarter of the year and seems poised to do the same in the second quarter, ending on June 30. Yet Romney’s campaign strategy seems out of touch with the front-loaded primary schedule, which is suited for his financial prowess. His current campaign strategy is to focus on the early primary states and then build off of momentum, employing the same method as John Edwards. Yet with all the money he has to spend, why not broadly advertise to start defining his image in larger states before others start to do so negatively?
When Romney limits his efforts to Iowa and New Hampshire, he opens himself up to being defined by others since he has no strong national reputation. Each bit of additional information that voters learn about Romney is extremely important, because it makes up a significant percentage of their view of him. The McCain campaign has tried to attack Romney and define him as a flip-flopper, but with limited success due to their own problems. But when Fred Thompson enters the race, he looks to court the same social conservative bloc that Romney is targeting. Thompson will have the credibility to successfully attack Romney and attract some of his supporters, if he chooses to do so.
Another potential pitfall for a Romney campaign before February 5th (where delegate-rich states such as California and New York vote) is Florida on January 29th. In the RCP average, Romney trails Giuliani by 20 points and Thompson by 6. Due to the large number of moderate voters there, it is unlikely Romney will prevail over Giuliani or perhaps a rejuvenated McCain. With the current primary schedule, Florida is a week after New Hampshire, enough time for a temporary bump to erode. (see next paragraph) A loss in Florida dampens momentum Romney may receive from victories in Iowa and New Hampsire and doesn’t bode well for his prospects on 2/5.
In 2000, there was a week between Iowa’s caucus and New Hampshire’s primary. Right before the Iowa caucus, McCain was leading Bush 45% to 33% in New Hampshire. Immediately after the caucus, which Bush won, Bush was statistically tied with McCain, 37% to 36%. However, Bush’s bump evaporated, and McCain was back to a ten-point lead two days before the primary. McCain went on to win by twenty points.
And although I began analyzing Romney’s campaign strategy, it led me to a different path. In a previous post, we determined the candidates farthest away from the center are focusing on the early states (Romney & Edwards). But the swath of moderate states voting soon after, with Florida as a momentum dampener, may prevent a far left/right candidate from the nomination. Is there something larger at stake here with the new primary schedule? Front-loading the nominating process may well lead to more moderate candidates serving as the party nominees and a less divided, less polarized nation.