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Thoughts from Ireland on the US presidential campaign - what's next for Mitt Romney

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Mitt Romney
Despite the endless implausible scenarios proffered incessantly by political commentators on America’s 24-hour news stations, that we in Ireland can watch on satellite television or online, Mitt Romney will be the Republican presidential nominee in 2012, barring a meltdown of epic proportions.

Surges by Michelle Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have all come and gone. Only the dogged Ron Paul, with his fervent, libertarian-leaning following, is likely to continue to fight on to the end. However, Paul’s positions on American foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East, and on what has become its corollary, the use of military force, are of limited appeal within the Republican Party.

The truth is that Romney has had the nomination all but sewn up for some time now. He has been running since the end of his first unsuccessful Republican campaign in 2008. He has a far better organization in every state than any other candidate in the Republican field. Ge has a much, much larger campaign war chest than the rest of his rivals and he has garnered high profile endorsements from a veritable who’s who of past and present Republican office holders at the federal, state and local levels.

Equally significantly, he is the most electable of the Republican field. Republicans have a history of flirting with conservatives in primaries, yet typically settle on the candidate they feel has the best chance of defeating the Democrats. This was never going to be the year they overturned precedent.
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First, because of “Obama care,” his other “socialist” ideas and still-simmering objections to his full “American hood,” right-wing voters are desperate to make Barack Obama a one-term president. They know in their hearts that Mitt Romney is the candidate with the best chance of doing so. Second, most understand that the other candidates are far outside the political mainstream and/or are burdened with substantial political liabilities. Consequently, their place at the top of the ticket would imperil the chances of Republicans seeking election or re-election to political office in 2012.

All of that said, Mitt Romney is a flawed candidate. As a successful venture capitalist, Romney presided over thousands of job losses when his firm, Bain Capital, took over financially distressed companies, stripped them of their assets and later resold them for a profit. Barack Obama won’t be shy about highlighting Romney’s track record as a businessman.

And Newt Gingrich, in a last ditch effort to salvage a bid for the nomination that sank as fast as it surged, is already running a lengthy advertisement featuring some of the people Romney’s company displaced. Clips of the ad are indistinguishable from the ones the late Edward Kennedy ran late in the campaign in his come from behind victory in 1994 when Romney sought Kennedy’s seat in the United States Senate.

Moreover, Romney won’t be able to hide from accusations that he has no core beliefs in a general election. He identified himself as a moderate with progressive ideas when he sought and ultimately held office in Massachusetts. And as Massachusetts governor, he was. He was pro-choice and pro-gay rights and signed into law the first mandatory health care law in the United States. He even worked in concert with Senator Kennedy, as well as with powerful Massachusetts Democratic state legislators, on the legislation.

Romney has had to answer ferocious criticism of his more liberal stances in the Republican nomination contests in 2008 and in 2012. Both times – and this time especially – he has had to denounce his past positions and declare that he is actually a conservative. He has been effective in assuring conservatives that he would govern the nation differently than he governed liberal Massachusetts. Nonetheless, he has certainly been forced to tack further to the right than he would like.

But in a general election, Romney will have to move back to the centre of the political spectrum. This will take some very fancy footwork. It is one thing for a conservative political candidate to move to the middle in a general election. A number have done so successfully in the past. It is a different thing altogether for someone who started in political life as a moderate and then morphed into a conservative to become a moderate again. And Obama will hold him to account at every opportunity.

Now with all of that said, Obama’s re-election is by no means a sure thing. He faces a wide array of challenges in seeking to reignite the magic of his 2008 campaign. The battle he is likely to face against Romney in one key state demonstrates just what he is up against.

A quick perusal of the Electoral College map reveals that Barack Obama’s path to victory becomes far more treacherous if he is unable to win in Florida. Obama won the state rather narrowly last time (51%-48%) and that triumph helped propel him to the presidency. Romney and his strategists recognise Florida’s importance and he has consistently postured from the earliest days of his campaign to appeal to Florida voters in the general election.

He was handed a gift in this regard by Rick Perry who, as Texas governor, described Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme.” Romney, cognizant of the huge number of elderly retirees living in Florida, lambasted Perry and defended the programme. More recently, in the wake of Barack Obama’s rhetoric to the effect that his administration may pursue a more nuanced policy in the Middle East, Romney used his speech after winning the New Hampshire primary to proclaim that “[H]e chastises friends like Israel; I’ll stand with our friends!” Given that Jews constitute a large percentage of the elderly retirees in Florida, it was no mistake that Romney reiterated a commitment to Israel in his campaign’s finest hour.

In the increasingly likely event that he is the Republican nominee, Romney could give another nod to Florida by choosing Marco Rubio, the state’s popular, youthful, Cuban-American United States Senator. While Rubio’s rising star dipped a bit in the wake of revelations that his parents actually left Cuba prior to Fidel Castro’s rise to power – not after, as he had maintained – he is still a very attractive candidate with a good story to tell. Cuban-Americans, a key voting bloc in Florida, would relish the opportunity to help elect one of their own to the country’s second highest office. What’s more, Romney will have the strong backing of still well-liked ex-Florida governor Jeb Bush. In short, Romney poses a significant threat to Obama in Florida.

This brief sketch from just one state illustrates the complex dynamics that would inhere in a general election contest between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. It should make for a fascinating and dramatic campaign.

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