New Primary Rules and Schedule Could Favor Mitt Romney

By R.B. Scott

Boston, MA - In case you missed it, the 2012 Presidential election season opened last week—the official beginning of what will be the most important election in recent memory, no hyperbole intended.

While no prospective candidate has yet announced, Texas Representative Ron Paul eked out a very inconsequential victory over Mitt Romney in CPAC’s (Conservative Political Alliance Conference) annual beauty contest. The narrowness of the win (30 to 23 percent) gave the Tea Party and their fellow travelers something to celebrate this week. Yet, the important news was that Romney had fared so well, perhaps foreshadowing the real world results from the forthcoming Republican primaries, still a full year off.

As if on cue, the GOP announced new primary rules and a schedule that caught the attention of one of the swing voters the party must appeal to if it is to defeat President Barack Obama in 2012. He wondered whether the new rules and adjustments strengthened Romney’s hand and were evidence of increasing Romney influence inside the party?

The answer to the both questions is “yes.”

Reconfirming my belief that a general election faceoff between Obama and Romney could have produced the intellectually challenging debate our nation needed in 2008, and now desperately needs in 2012, I observed:

South Carolina: Senator John McCain was a decisive winner of the South Carolina primary in 2008. Without much of an effort, Romney polled solidly (slightly behind Southerner Fred Thompson). With neither McCain nor Thompson in the race, Romney should do much better. Would many of the McCain or Thompson votes in South Carolina shift to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, should he be in the running? Not many! Romney has a solid organization on the ground this time around. He has many outstanding (double entendre intended) I.O.U.s in the state that will become due and payable in 2012. Moreover, Romney’s Mormon beliefs are not the insurmountable roadblocks they once were to some evangelical Christians.

Iowa: Conventional wisdom suggests that Iowa remains a conundrum because of the unpredictable influence and activity of evangelical Christians. Such wisdom ignores the fact that Iowa was close in 2008. One or two percentage points were the difference and support for both Huckabee and Romney was increasing when caucuses were held. There will be no last minute insurgency, leastwise not from Huckabee. The Romney organization was always better organized, disciplined, and now they are on high alert too. Would Iowa supporters of Rudy Giuliani and McCain shift to Huckabee in 2012? Does Huckabee have the disciplined organization on the ground to outmaneuver Romney in 2012?

 New Hampshire and Nevada: Slotting all four early contests into the early February compels Huckabee (assuming he’s the leading Romney rival) to compete in all four states simultaneously, in January, if he’s serious about capturing the nomination. He has neither the effective surrogates nor bankroll to compete in all four states simultaneously. By contrast, Romney will be impossible to beat in New Hampshire, where he is a favorite son, or Nevada, where his Western roots and religion make him a virtual favorite son. He has plenty of visible muscle lined up in both states, and easier access to the party infrastructure there, freeing-up money and human resources for Iowa and South Carolina.

 March Primaries: The really big boost to Romney’s candidacy is the new rule requiring the March primary/caucus states to allocate delegates proportionately. Recall that Romney got sandbagged big time by McCain and Huckabee in the winner-take-all West Virginia contest. Had delegates been awarded proportionately, Romney would have lived to fight another day and, probably survived through the convention and, perhaps, beyond.

The Tampa Convention: While the new rules should lead to popular selection of the party’s nominee long before the convention gets under way in late August, they also seem to assure that Romney will be in the hunt through Tampa. Romney’s chances of surviving a brokered convention would turn on his success collecting the vault full of I.O.U.s he amassed over the last two years. 

Insurgencies and Spoilers: The new calendar seems to eliminate opportunities for wannabe spoilers like Obama’s formidable ambassador to China, Jon Huntsman, the former Utah governor and a Republican. Despite their common backgrounds and party affiliation (for now), Huntsman seems to have irreconcilable differences with Romney that date back to 1996 when Romney was selected over Huntsman to revive the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. If Huntsman seeks revenge this time around, as he did in 2008 when he endorsed John McCain, he’ll likely have to wait for the general election and realign himself with the incumbent President and his party. This could lead to the most satisfying revenge of all.

 Or not!